Since Japan took its nuclear fleet offline following the 2011 earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the country has experienced issues with the provision of adequate electricity supplies, especially at times of extreme heat or cold.
In March, the country experienced energy supply problems following an earthquake. At one point on March 22nd, the consumption rate in the country was 106 percent, meaning that demand had significantly outpaced supply. Nearly 3 million households in the country faced the threat of blackouts, and urgent measures were taken to curtail consumption as lights were dimmed and air conditioners turned down or off. Crisis was averted, but the scare and the litany of similar if more minor incidents that have occured in recent months and years have prompted the country to take a hard look at its energy infrastructure. It has been found wanting.
This has only been escalated by Japan’s sanctions on Russian coal. It hopes to sanction Russian oil and gas as well, but relied on the country for nearly 10 percent of its LNG last year.
In the wake of the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the reelection of his Liberal Democratic Party’s government, maintaining Fumio Kishida as Prime Minister, the country’s pro-nuclear party is looking at its old nuclear plants as a solution to the current power supply crisis.
In July, Prime Minister Kishida said during a press conference that, “For this winter, I have directed [Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Koichi Hagiuda] to proceed with the operation of up to nine nuclear reactors, which are equivalent to roughly 10% of Japan’s total electricity consumption volumes.” Japan currently has five operating reactors (ten have been restarted,” but only five were producing power at the time of his comments; that number has now risen to seven), so this promise would require bringing four additional reactors that were shuttered after Fukushima was brought back online.
Even more remarkably, on Wednesday Prime Minister Kishida announced that in addition to the restarting of formerly closed reactors, the country would look toward investing in next generation nuclear technology in order to meet its energy needs and meet its climate goals. If this occurred, it would be a major change in the country’s nuclear policy after more than a decade of post Fukushima nuclear skepticism.
Although there has certainly been opposition, the shift back toward a pro-nuclear public opinion in Japan has been caused in large part by rising electricity prices and tightening electricity supplies. As energy concerns mount, and energy conservation alerts abound, the public has become much more open to any available option to meet demand than they had been in the immediate wake of the accident.
Meeting energy demand is a problem across the world right now, as decades of poor energy policy and planning in Europe and Asia as well as the United States are beginning to come to a head. When it comes to how countries react to these policy failures though, there is significant variation.
Germany is resisting keeping nuclear plants running, preferring to reopen mothballed coal plants despite a serious need for every spare megawatt of capacity that the country has, while France is reaping the rewards of chronic underinvestment in its heretofore reliable nuclear fleet, and everyone is feeling the supply pressures resulting from geopolitical uncertainty regarding Russian gas.
Within this landscape, the moves that countries take now to secure their grids will have important implications for both the heatwaves that come next, and the upcoming winter. As such, it’s good to see Japan take another step back toward utilizing its nuclear fleet.
This piece was produced by Paige Lambermont, a Policy Associate at IER