By Robert Gee, President, Gee Strategies Group
Those who fantasize a country without nuclear power are about to get their wish. The aftermath of the accident at Fukushima Daiishi has left Japan with an increasingly narrowed set of options both for the welfare of its citizens and for its economy.
Before this incident, Japan’s economic planners had sketched a vision for its economic future that saw nuclear power use growing, as a percentage of power generation, from 30 percent in 2007 to 50 percent by 2030. That forecast was torn asunder by the events of March 11 of last year. Instead, owing to concerns about operational safety, Japan was forced to curtail use of 39 of its 50 nuclear reactors, excluding the 4 units at Fukushima Daiichi. During last summer when demand for power was at its peak, Japan’s residents and businesses were forced to adopt draconian energy efficiency measures to maintain grid reliability. During one peak day in August, consumption dropped 38 percent below levels experienced in the prior year. Thermostats were raised, businesses operated on rotating consumption cycles, and the population endured while gritting its collective teeth.
How will Japan’s people and businesses manage this coming summer? By all accounts, the situation will likely be even more dire than last year. Currently, owing to public pressure objecting to the resumption of nuclear plant operations, coupled with the need to take plants offline for routine maintenance, Japan has only 5 nuclear reactors operating. In May, that number vanishes to zero. Those measures adopted last year to cope with the loss of nuclear capacity will fall drastically short this summer. Japan’s resource and energy consumption options are limited. To cure the supply shortfall, it will need to resort to increased fossil fuel options such as coal and gas, impairing air quality in the middle of the summer. Depending on the degree of curtailment of consumption, it will need to calibrate its reduced consumption carefully lest it negatively impact industrial output and contribute to prolonging the economic recession.
With few options on the table, and with the role of nuclear power being hotly debated, Japan’s second day of reckoning is about to be realized.
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