Fukushima: Five Years On

Preamble

6:20. It’s the morning of November 22, 2016. I was shaken out of bed by another earthquake. I wasn’t too alarmed. I live in Japan where earthquakes are a common experience. But this one was strong. And it brought to mind the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown than occurred on March 11, 2011, if only briefly. It was as catastrophic as it was unexpected, and brought immense suffering and disruption to the people living in northern Japan. And, like all significant events, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing, down to the very last minuscule detail.

Fukushima

There has been some obvious rebuilding and a return to normalcy for the most part. However, there are areas that are still desolate and contaminated; and will remain so for years to come. The Fukushima incident if nothing else has taught us some vital lessons about nuclear energy plants. For example, the importance of safety compliance, transparency, and not to operate nuclear plants if your country is situated in an earthquake zone. Japan sits on four tectonic plates that are responsible for the country’s high number of earthquakes per year, (approximately 1500 per year)! Therefore, in my view, it is just not a safe location for nuclear plants to be built! Most Japanese people also felt the same — at the time.

Following the aftermath of the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear accident in 2011, there was a robust demand from the citizens to close the nuclear plants and convert to cleaner, greener and safer alternative energy supplies. However, in March 2015, in a poll conducted by the Information and Research Centre, 67% of the citizens were willing to use nuclear energy if the costs were reduced or remained the same. This highlights the reality that policy making is a dynamic process, as peoples’ needs and opinions change rapidly and significantly. A policy once thought to be necessary today may no longer be considered important tomorrow.

Xiang et al (2011) proposed three policy directions: 1. The first policy is a technocratic route, where the policy is directed at energy production itself. 2. The second policy direction is a domestic policy route. Japanese Cabinets should seek to solve their divided political and cultural interests regarding nuclear energy. Collaborate with the various policy networks and agree on a “common currency” and a positive outcome for all groups. 3. The third policy direction is to supplement nuclear power production with renewable energy from solar, wind and tidal generation. In addition, to the above policy issues, the government could aim to improve information sharing and safety practices.

Japan’s Energy Mix to 2030

Japan aims to improve efficiency and transparency regarding its energy policies. As at May, 2015, the government’s plan as recommended by METI is an “energy mix” policy. METI’s report calls for nuclear energy to account for 20%-22% of power generation by 2030. Renewable energy sources was proposed at 22%-24%, coal 26%, LNG’s 27%, and oil 3%. The ministry also noted that “nuclear policy must be developed with safety as a priority and with constant work on preparedness for emergency”.

I still hold to my view. Based on Japan’s geographical location, nuclear plants are not a wise or safe option. What are your views on Japan’s energy policy?

That’s it folks. Thanks for reading!