By Vijay Jayaraj
Since an earthquake and tsunami severely damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima, Japan has struggled with powering its economy. While the country’s initial reaction to the 2011 disaster was to abandon a once robust nuclear program, a decade later Japan is not only returning to splitting atoms and but also seeking to burn more fossil fuels than once would have been imagined.
To an extent, Japan is an example of what is happening in developed economies across the globe. More countries are coming to appreciate the importance of nuclear energy, and an increasing number in the West are finding it hard to abandon fossil fuels despite publicly vowing to do so.
Japan: An Economy that runs on Nuclear, Oil, Coal and Gas
Tokyo’s move away from nuclear energy was entirely because of the unwarranted fears surrounding the technology. However, once it was understood that Fukushima was more of a natural disaster than a fundamental technological failure, the country began to reverse its nuclear retrenchment and is now fully on track with an ambitious plan to use power reactors.
Historically, much of Japan’s electricity needs have been met by fossil fuels, especially coal. Then, in the late 2000s, like most developed economies of Europe and North America, Japan was confronted by pressures to reduce coal use to address a purported climate emergency. However, Japan now realizes that it can continue to use coal using state-of-art technology, which reduces pollution significantly.
In its coverage of a new clean-coal plant backed by $384 million of public funds, Nikkei Asia reports that the country’s initiatives are bearing fruit and providing much needed electricity.
“Japan, which sources about one-third of its power from coal, sees the project as key to its policy of safely achieving energy security as well as economic and environmental efficiency,” said Nikkei Asia.
Quoting Japan’s latest energy plan, the publication said coal is “an important energy source with excellent stability of supply and economic efficiency at present, because it has the lowest geopolitical risk related to procurement, is cheap and is easy to store.”
It is likely that Japan will fall back on its coal power whenever it is needed.
The country’s choice to go against the global anti-coal movement may seem unique, but more and more countries find themselves in a position where they have no option but to continue depending on fossil fuels.
Nuclear and Fossil Fuels: An Emerging Global Pattern
U.S. and France depend heavily on nuclear for power. More than 50 percent of all electricity generated in Slovakia, Ukraine and Belgium come from nuclear plants.
Hell-bent in its opposition to nuclear, Germany is somewhat unique in shutting down nuclear plants in the midst of an energy crisis, Yet, Germany has consistently failed to keep its promise to reduce emissions from fossil fuel combustion and is now turning back to coal. In 2022, Germany imported 44.4 million tons of coal, an eight percent increase from 2021. This is no surprise.
Among the world’s foremost anti-fossil fuel advocates are leaders in the UK, U.S., EU, Canada and Australia. Nonetheless, many of them, especially in the EU, continue to rely significantly on fossil fuels for various reasons.
In the EU, a shortage of gas stemming from interruptions of Russian gas supplies and a disgracefully incompetent renewable-transition policy ensured a shortage of fuels to generate power.
Thomas Moller-Nielsen in The Brussels Times notes that “the EU’s increase in coal consumption is particularly ironic, given that the bloc has previously impressed on major polluters the need to take urgent steps to tackle climate change. Indeed, in an unprecedented reversal of roles, China recently urged European leaders to take ‘positive action’ to address human-induced global warming.”
So what we have is a situation where the reality of energy demand beckons these advanced economies to fall back on trustworthy fossil fuels and embrace highly efficient nuclear energy. Unreliable solar and wind cannot meet the needs, and attempts to have them do so will likely lead to national bankruptcies.
This commentary was first published at Daily Caller, May 5, 2023, and can be accessed here.
Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK and resides in India.
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