It was history in the making: the Japanese government finally decided last week on a new energy and environment strategy involving a complete phase out of nuclear power across the country by the 2030s.
And then came the fine print.
The government hastily added last weekend that the phase out referred to all plants except for the three currently under construction. The government backpedalled marginally on Wednesday, conceding that the phase out might not actually occur in the 2030s or 40s following strong lobbying from business groups.
So where does that leave the strategy?
Without doubt, the plan has been weakened, but the basic thrust is that the government, the Democratic Party of Japan (DJP), is still committed (link in Japanese) to making Japan a nuclear-free society in the next 30 years.
Although the government is being vague by attempting to please all its critics, the landmark announcement remains mostly intact.
While it was not perfect in the first place and has been weakened further, it still represents a big step forward for a country that was looking to increase its reliance on nuclear power to 50% just 18 months ago.
Some critics have since labelled the DPJ’s zero nukes policy as a ‘climate disaster’, arguing it will destroy Japan’s ability to cut its greenhouse gas emissions because it will rely more heavily on coal, oil and gas to power its high-tech, but resource poor economy.
While it is true that Japan’s emissions have jumped in the short-term, the Japanese people have proven that they are both willing and able to save enough power for Japan to continue with no nuclear plants online, and with no power shortages.
Given that renewable solutions are already being rolled out rapidly, the medium to long-term doom and gloom is unjustified.
If the government sticks to its pledge and does not extend the lives of existing plants, it has at least 18 to 22 years by its vague schedule to make the switch to renewable solutions. Germany’s clean energy revolution has taken less than a quarter of that so far, and it is already generating close to 50% of its energy from clean solutions on good days.
Importantly, Japan’s population is projected to decline by 30 percent between now and 2060. That’s around 800,000 fewer people using electricity each year, averaged out, and by the time the last nuclear plants are switched off there would be fewer than 100 million people compared with 127.8 million people in 2011.
That would mean a lot less electricity would be used, especially after 28 years of energy efficiency measures and renewable deployments.
With such a huge fall off in electricity use and with 90% of the public calling for a nuclear free future, a renewable energy system, such as that outlined in Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution, is the best way forward for Japan.
Getting there, however, will require an equally significant revolution in thinking in Japanese economic and political circles. For decades, they have been wedded to the idea that nuclear is Japan’s saviour, but with the true costs of nuclear power becoming clearer everyday, the change to an energy future based on renewables is inevitable.