Japan’s Post-3/11 Energy Crisis

S. Yates Wilburn
The political backlash of the Fukishima nuclear meltdown in March of 2011 forced the shutdown of all but two of Japan’s nuclear power plants as well as a harsh reconsideration of the country’s future energy strategy. With pre-earthquake plans calling for Japan to rely upon nuclear sources for over half of its energy production by 2050, this is no minor inconvenience. In the short run, the loss of nuclear energy production in Japan has severely impacted its ability to meet domestic demand. Overall energy capacity in Japan fell from 282 gigawatts (GW) to 243 GW by mid-2011, (EIA) and—as of July 2011—capacity was expected to fall 7.8% short of summer 2012’s projected peak demand. (IEE Japan, 2011) The potential impact upon Japan’s future economic growth could be negative when its current strategy of filling in the production gap with fossil fuels is combined with their rising prices. While this plan may offset the economic impact of Japan’s current energy predicament in the short run, growing energy prices could have a negative impact upon Japan’s future GDP growth as the nation’s electricity providers begin to adjust to a new reality without nuclear power.
Japan’s energy security before the Tohoku earthquake on 3/11 rested upon the hope offered by nuclear power, a hope to move away from over-dependence upon foreign oil and the risks that carries. This strategy took the form of the Basic Energy Plan (BEP) in 2010 and was designed to use nuclear energy production to slow the growing share of GDP that importing fossil fuels took from Japan’s economy, which climbed from “1 percent of GDP in 2003 to 4.8 percent in 2008.” The central goal of the BEP was to bring nuclear power’s share of energy production—30% of the nation’s total just before 3/11—up to 50% by 2030, the hope being that such a heavy reliance upon more domestically produced resources would help guarantee Japan a more secure energy future. The ultimate goal, called “ambitious” by some was to “secure 60% of all energy needs, not only electricity, from nuclear sources by 2100. Simultaneously, this plan would allow Japan to fulfill its environmental obligations to cut Japan’s CO2 emissions by 90% from 2000 levels. (Foreign Policy) Unfortunately, as the situation currently stands, Japan is now sitting on (roughly) 47 GW of generating capacity that is, for all intents and purposes, largely unusable in the short term for political reasons.

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