Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Planning for a Post-Nuclear Japan

Two years haven’t done anything to improve the look of the nuclear power industry in Japan. Safety inspections that were supposed to reassure the public instead revealed a culture of lax standards and complacency in nuclear operations, and there continue to be revelations about the nuclear disaster at Fukushima that show it to be worse than previously thought. For example, we now know that huge amounts of radioactive water leaked into the ocean almost from the moment the tsunami hit and that substantial leaks continue up to the present. Meanwhile, popular support for nuclear power has proved to be much less than what the industry thought it had. And so, Japan finds itself making plans for a transition to a post-nuclear future.

The transition is hesitant at first, with no obvious path forward, but that does not mean the nuclear plants continue to operate while people figure things out. A premature proposal to restart reactors this year brought 100,000 middle-aged anti-nuclear protestors to the streets to call for a different solution in a rare show of mass public sentiment. So instead, Japan is importing as much natural gas as it can and is looking for other short-term measures to take. Energy sources for a post-nuclear Japan may be a big problem for many years to come, but in Japan, no one disputes that nuclear power has also become a big problem.