News / Asia

Post-Fukushima Japan Nears Energy Crossroads

Japanese evacuees prepare for a brief return to their homes near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, May 10, 2011 (file photo).
Japanese evacuees prepare for a brief return to their homes near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, May 10, 2011 (file photo).
Henry Ridgwell

In January, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency trudged through the Japanese winter to visit the snow-bound Ohi nuclear power plant and approve a stress test carried out in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown.

But today its reactors remain dormant.

In fact, all but three of the country’s 54 reactors were shut down in the wake of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and polls suggest a majority of Japanese citizens don’t want them restarted.

Public skepticism on the rise

While not a legal requirement, Japanese custom dictates that approval from local authorities -- a thing that is currently far from certain -- would be needed before restarting the reactors, and in recent months, anti-nuclear protests have only gathered strength.

Kazuko Watanabe, standing among a group of Tokyo demonstrators, says she doesn't understand why Japan must continue to rely on nuclear power.

"Nuclear waste takes hundreds of thousands of years to break down," she says. "I have no trust in the politicians who have vowed to protect the people, the children and our hometowns."

Ever since two government advisory panel experts claimed lessons were not learned from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster, public skepticism has grown. Stress tests on Japan’s other reactors, the experts said, simulated only one natural disaster at a time, which ignored the possibility of a joint earthquake and tsunami -- as happened last year -- and also excluded equipment failure and human error.

"Members of the IAEA left Japan without investigating and conducting research themselves," says Hiromitsu Ino of Tokyo University, one of the two government panel experts.
IAEA inspections, he says, are just for show.

"My impression at the time was that the Japanese government just wanted an endorsement of the work of the Japanese energy companies."

Everything uprooted

Before the Fukushima crisis, Japan got a third of its energy needs from atomic power.
"Nuclear power was supposed to be that answer to their problems," says Paul Scalise, an energy expert at Tokyo University. "With the nuclear crisis at Fukushima, everything now has been uprooted, and it’s very unclear if renewable energy with its very high price-per-kilowatt-hour -- and the general level of instability that renewables currently create -- prevent a very smooth transfer from nuclear to renewables like solar, wind, etcetera."

Because Japan lies on very active seismic fault lines, Scalise says volcanoes and hot springs offer huge potential for geothermal power, where steam generated from underground heat is used to drive turbines.

"Geothermal is a fantastic base-load energy source," he says. "It is clean, it is relatively inexpensive, and it is abundant. Unfortunately it has political problems. Most of the best sites are located in Japan’s national parks."

In a few months, stifling summer heat will create booming demand for power, which, analysts say, leaves Japan facing a stark choice: restart the reactors or begin investing in a long and expensive switch to alternative energy.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs