Following multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, Japan’s energy future is now in disarray.  As The Japan Times reports, a country once run on nuclear, coal and natural gas is now wondering if it will have enough electricity in the future to maintain its current standard of living.

Up until March Japan was producing one billion megawatt hours (MWh) a year.  Now with an anti-nuclear mood in the air and concerns about climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels, the people of Japan wonder how they can quickly replace all of that electric power.

Before Fukushima, 54 nuclear reactors supplied 30 percent of all the country’s electricity. With 14 new reactors planned, nuclear was set to comprise more than half of total power capacity by 2030. (35 reactors are currently idle.)

In the short term Japan, with no domestic sources of fossil fuels, is increasing its imports of oil, coal and liquified natural gas (LNG).

What is clear from the above is that Japan is critically dependent upon imports for energy… in 2008 Japan imported almost 99 percent of its oil, 98 percent of its coal, and 96 percent of its gas.  Most (88 percent) of oil came from the Middle East, particularly the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, and Kuwait.   For coal, Japan relies on Australia, China, Indonesia, Russia, the U.S., South Africa, and Canada.  Almost all domestic gas is imported LNG, primarily from Indonesia (20.4 percent of imports in 2008), Malaysia (19 percent), Australia (17 percent), Qatar (12 percent), Brunei (9 percent) and the UAE (8 percent).

Renewable energy currently supplies 9% of Japan’s electrical power and the government would like to raise that number to 20% over the next decade. Of the 9%, two-thirds is from hydro and the remainder from a combination of wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

Unlike Europe,  the country has not been enthusiastic about renewables and has failed to put in place the appropriate energy policies to encourage their growth.  Legislation is currently being debated in Japan’s parliament to encourage more renewables.  The proposed new law would require utilities to buy all electricity generated by renewable sources.  It would also introduce a feed-in tariff (FIT), requiring utilities to pay a premium price for electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and small- and mid-scale hydro-electric plants. The premium would be passed on to utility customers.

FITs are common throughout the world; a similar system recently helped Germany leap to the forefront of the solar market. However, as places like Spain learned, a government-funded FIT prompted a boom in the  solar and wind-power industries — followed by a crash when the government ran out of money to keep subsidizing it.  The Canadian province of Ontario had to reduce its FIT for solar when demand got out of control as did Western Australia.

Forbes has assessed the carbon costs or replacing Japan’s nuclear reactors with wind and solar power if Japan is to meet its Kyoto commitments.  Using wind alone would take up 1/2 of Japan’s landmass at a cost of $375 billion.

…replacing the generation lost from a complete phase-out of nuclear power entirely with wind energy would require wind generation to increase from its current levels, 3.257 billion kWh (0.3% of total electricity), to 267 billion kWh (27% of total electricity)

…the installation of these wind turbines would require 38,000 acres taken out of production on a wind farm, and a total of 1.3 billion acres for the entire wind farm. This represents over 50 percent of Japan’s total land area.

Using solar alone would again take up 1/2 of the country’s land mass and cost $1 trillion.

Replacing the generation lost from a complete phase-out of nuclear power entirely with solar energy would require a more than ten-fold increase in solar’s contribution to the national energy system, from the country’s 2009 eletricity generation of 2.1 billion kWh (0.2% of total electricity) to 267.8 billion kWh (27% of total electricity).

…the 203 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity required to replace Japan’s current nuclear fleet would cover roughly 1.3 million acres…That’s the equivalent of roughly 52% of Japan’s total land area.

Phasing out nuclear generation and replacing it with either LNG or coal would present a significant setback as the nation strives to reduce overall CO2 emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. Instead, overall carbon dioxide emissions would increase by at least 270 million tons, 22 percent of Japan’s current total emissions. If Japan replaced all of this lost generation with electricity from coal-fired power plants, its C02 emissions would rise by at least 452 million tons, 37 percent of current total emissions and an immense 109 percent of current power sector emissions.

The additional LNG imports would cost the country $38.8 billion while the coal imports would cost $25 billion dollars. New LNG plants would cost $86 billion to construct while new coal-fired power plants would cost $43 billion.

Climate Spectator adds that “Japan’s massive public debt, already twice the size of its $5 trillion economy, means finding government funds to invest in new technologies and upgrading the power grid will be tough.”

Even moreso than Germany (which has chosen to phase out its nuclear power) Japan is sitting on the horns of a dilemma as it tries to ensure its population that there will be enough energy in their future while at the same time keeping that energy clean.



Japan is now expecting a 9.2% eletric power shortage next summer.  This would occur if all 54 nuclear plants are shut down and the country uses its full potential for coal, oil and natural gas production to make up the difference.

Only 16 nuclear reactors are now operating and nuclear’s share of Japan’s energy supply fell to 18 percent in June from 30 percent in early March. A combination of mandatory power cuts and voluntary savings by companies and consumers allowed the utilities to match supply and demand without resorting to rolling blackouts.


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