After Nuclear Mishap, Japan Debates Energy Future

Posted by Trish Riley, October 2, 2011

Japan faces a dilemma: The country lacks natural resources and relies heavily on nuclear power. But in the wake of a nuclear accident in March, 70 percent of Japanese now say they want to phase out atomic energy.

It’s a huge, long-term challenge. Even backers of renewable energy say it could take two generations for Japan to become nuclear-free.

But Japan was taking action even before the accident at the Fukushima power plant on the country’s northeast coast.

Japan’s newest mega-solar project opened last month in the Tokyo suburb of Kawasaki City. Nearly 38,000 solar panels are spread across land the size of several football fields, and they can power more than 2,000 homes.

Tomomi Hasegawa, who works for the local environmental department, says solar energy has some big attractions in the age of climate change and nuclear fear.

“There are no exposed power lines, so it’s very safe,” he says. “It doesn’t pollute or emit anything, so there’s no pollution either.”

But there are limitations. In clear weather, the panels can generate up to 7,000 kilowatts a day.

However, on a not-so-sunny day, efficiency is lower, at about 3,000 kilowatts. And the panels take up space, a precious commodity in this crowded, mountainous archipelago.

Kawasaki City is so dense, the government had to squeeze the project onto an industrial waste site between the airport and Tokyo Bay.

Subsidized Wind And Solar Power

Last month, Japan’s legislature passed a bill to subsidize wind and solar power. The measure requires power companies to buy solar and wind energy at inflated prices. The idea is to make it worthwhile for companies to invest in expensive technology and speed up Japan’s shift toward renewable energy.

Kono Taro, a member of Parliament in the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, says the strategy is to let nuclear power slowly die off.

“People generally agree we should not add any more nuclear reactors,” Taro says. “And any nuclear reactor that has been operated for 40 years should be decommissioned. Then, by 2050, our nuclear power will be zero.”

If that happens, it would be a stunning turnaround. Nuclear power now accounts for at least 25 percent of Japan’s energy. Solar and wind power makes up just 1 percent.

Taro knows renewable energy has problems, but he sees ways around them.

Published: September 06, 2011

by Frank Langfitt

from npr.org

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