Nearly two months to the day since Japan's worst-ever nuclear accident began, the country's head of state has announced that the country is scuttling plans to build more nuclear power plants.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Tuesday that the country will steer away from increasing nuclear energy dependence, in favor of increasing energy conservation, efficiency, and expansion of renewable power generation.
"Kan said today that renewable energy will be a key pillar of Japan's energy policy after the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years," reported Reuters, "and that its nuclear policy must be reviewed from scratch...'I think it is necessary to move in the direction of promoting natural energy and renewable energy,' [said Kan], citing wind, solar, or biomass energy as possible alternative sources--areas in which Japan lags globally."
The New York Times' Martin Fackler reported,
The cancellation of the planned nuclear plants is the second time that Mr. Kan has suddenly announced big changes in Japanese nuclear policy without the usual endless committee meetings and media leaks that characterize the country’s consensus-driven decision-making process...
The announcement Tuesday came just days after Mr. Kan said Japan remained committed to nuclear power. His apparent pull-back may be driven partly by public opinion, which has significantly soured on nuclear power since the Fukushima accident.
This is a major policy shift for the Kan government, which last year announced plans for building 14 new reactors over the next 20 years, and increasing nuclear's share of the nation's energy mix to 50 percent. Currently Japan's 54 reactors supply a third of its electricity.
Kan announced the new energy policy just as authorities were allowing evacuees to make quick trips back to their homes around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. These are the first visits the area's residents have been allowed to make since the government created mandatory evacuation zones around the facility.
"The first round of home visits took place in the village of Kawauchi, which has the third fewest number of households among the nine municipalities in the surrounding areas of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant -- where some 27,000 households have been ordered to evacuate," reported The Mainichi Daily News.
The visits "included a two-hour time cap and a limit to the personal belongings they could bring back -- which were required to fit inside a 70-centimeter-square plastic bag..."
Hideko Yokota, 63, who returned home with her husband, could not hide her disappointment. "We couldn't bring back anything too heavy," she said. "We narrowed everything down to the bare minimum." She and her husband were only able to collect their seals, some papers, and clothes. Some residents had carried out bigger household goods before their neighborhoods were cordoned off as no-entry zones on April 22, but the Yokotas had not been able to do so.
When the enormous scope of Japan's nuclear accident became clear in March, Germany began re-examining its nuclear power goals. The Times' Judy Dempsey reports today that a special energy policy commission, tasked by Chancellor Angela Merkel shortly after the Fukushima Daiichi crisis began, is set to recommend that Germany end all use of nuclear power entirely within just 10 years. The country should treat nuclear power as a "bridge technology," the committee will advocate, while new clearn-energy technologies are developed. ("Nuclear energy provides 22.6 percent of Germany’s electricity supply, according to the Energy Ministry," writes Dempsey, "with coal providing more than 42 percent; natural gas, 13.6 percent; and renewable sources like wind and solar, 16.5 percent; with the remainder coming from other sources.")
If these two industrial powerhouses believe they can shift to renewables without losing economic steam, what's stopping equally wealthy nations like France, the U.S., or the United Kingdom? The Guardian's Damian Carrington blogs,
If the third and fourth biggest economies in the world believe they can cut their carbon emissions and keep the lights on without building nuclear power stations, then why can't the sixth? That's the question I am asking after Japan (3rd) yesterday followed Germany (4th) in abandoning their plans for a new generation of nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the catastrophe at Fukushima. In contrast, the UK (6th) remains committed to building a new fleet of reactors. The question may soon become even more stark if a referendum in Italy (7th) next month also cancels their future nuclear programme...
Image: Poster for anti-nuclear power march held in Germany on March 26, 2011. Credit: quapan/flickr CC BY 2.0