Following the earthquake and tsunami that forced the Japanese government to shut down all of Japan’s nuclear power plants last March, the country has significantly shifted its energy sources. Today, just two of the country’s 50 nuclear reactors have recommenced operations. Prior to the natural disaster, Japan depended on its nuclear reactors for approximately 30% of its electricity and this was expected to increase to nearly 50% by 2050.
In early 2011, with 30% of Japan’s base energy no longer available, the nation was asked to conserve electricity by as much as 15%. Power companies fired up old gas and oil powered stations and the country worked to secure imported fossil fuels. Despite the country’s energy security challenges, and fears of increased energy prices and widespread blackouts, the citizens of Japan united and their demands for a nuclear-free Japan strengthened.
Japan recently announced its new energy policy entitled “Revolutionary Energy and Environment Strategy,” which seeks to phase out nuclear power by 2040. To accomplish this, the policy calls for Japan to seek cheaper sources of liquefied natural gas and other fossil fuels. Additionally, the policy focuses on energy conservation, procurement of additional renewable energy sources, and energy saving measures, such as smart metering. Unfortunately, the policy is not without caveats and loopholes and there is also potential for it to be rescinded by the country’s next political party. But regardless of how Japan’s new energy policy is changed over the coming months the tone has been set: Japan’s future will no longer rely on nuclear energy.
It is encouraging to see countries around the world, including Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and now Japan, commit to weaning themselves off nuclear power. At Portfolio 21 Investments we do not support the expansion of nuclear power because we consider the cost of new nuclear installations to be high relative to the environmental and health risks associated with nuclear reactors and waste.
Beth is a Senior Research Analyst with Portfolio 21 Investments. She has 10 years of environmental and social investing research experience.