How Fukushima Accelerated Climate Change and Economic Downfall


Angela Merkel had been welcoming the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Shinzo Abe last Wednesday. Their common concerns were limited to the Crimean Crisis and the Japanese dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands. I thought about a much different news announcement that the Japanese government had issued earlier last month when it confirmed they will be backing up nuclear energy again 2 Japans shift in energy policy is contradicting a common goal that both countries have, or had  – the exit from nuclear power. This ambitious goal has not been part of their talks, in fact, Japan is now hushing up on these plans and Germany is facing major difficulties. Two years ago it seemed nuclear power reached its very life expectancy, now the situation changed.


Fukushima Changing Japans energy policy

Germany and Japan were both greatly influenced by the 2011 Tsunami and its parallel nuclear disaster in Fukushima. It dislocated 130,000 Japanese people from their homes 3 and there may soon be 200 tons of radioactive water floating into the ocean 4 – the great picture of the catastrophe’s effects are still far from certain. Directly afterwards did the Japanese find themselves in an increased state of alarm and reactors were slowly taken off the energy net, the last one in September 2013.


Effects on global energy policies – Germany

A few months past Fukushima was the German “Energiewende” born 5. Germans are historically very sensible to the issue of nuclear power, a concern that is deeply rooted in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. In 2011, the government finally and abruptly decided to take out nuclear energy from the national power supply as fast as possible. Policymakers aspired the substitute of nuclear energy to be solely renewable energy. In fact, the 22.4% share of nuclear energy production in 2011 6 has been matched so far by a renewable energy increase of 7%. Renewable energies are now number two of Germany’s energy-source segments and plans go as far as to increase them to a share of 40-45% in 2025 7 This development stipulates the exit from nuclear energy till the year of 2022.

However, more developments had been taking place simultaneously; the pressure to create a safe energy supply basis and the increasing prices for natural gas are reactivating imported stone coal and German-mined borecoal as energy sources. Their share of national supply increased from 41,8% in 2010 to 45,5% in 2013. The exit from nuclear energy created a form of pressure that gave coal an attractive platform and now even various new coal-fired power plants are being built. Additionally, increased solar energy subsidies are boosting German national energy prices to an all-time high that was much unexpected by consumers and companies. 8 This development is in fact a very sad side effect of the German Energiewende – by trying to become the world leader for renewable energy, Germany must at the same time increasingly rely on the most environmentally damaging source of energy. One source that accounts to much less carbon dioxide emissions is nuclear energy, and whereas going back to nuclear energy is not an option in Germany, the situation looks much different in Japan. Its exit from the exit was unveiled earlier this year in the new Japanese energy policy statement. 9 After all its nuclear reactors are now shut down, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is stressing them for restart viability. According to recent estimations 60% of the 48 reactors are not viable 10, but the rest might get the governmental approval for restart. This development takes place despite more than half the Japanese public are opposing nuclear energy, or maybe it just does because the other half is not opposing it. 11. In any case, there is a major reason why the Abe administration is in favor of nuclear power once again, and yes, it comes down to monetary issues. Thanks to Abenomics, the Japanese Yen is finally inflating more steadily, but this means that also imports like natural gas and oil are becoming increasingly expensive. The price of gas in Japan respectively is now five times higher than in the USA. This is a huge issue now because it is natural gas that replaces the old nuclear power plants for most. 12 Japans trade balance in 2013 showed a minus of $113billion, which is the highest ever since it was counted. Japan had furthermore, just like Germany, tried to replace nuclear energy shares with solar energy. A subsidy program was introduced in 2012. Now are not only the increased costs for energy imports stipulating the new energy policy of Mr. Abe, but also have these subsidies made the electricity more expensive for the Japanese economy. All in all, the energy policies of Germany and Japan are temporarily creating high disadvantages for the domestic economy 13 – the USA, on the contrary has just recently been freeing up the way to exploit its natural gas reserves through fracking. Emerging countries like India and China are trusting in nuclear power plants to ensure cheap future energy supply. The latter currently operates 20 nuclear plants and another 28 are under construction. 14


What the future holds in store

In fact, choices are very limited for Japanese politicians because Japan does not hold many energy resources. In order to stay economically competitive they would have to issue further energy subsidies, increase their budget and therefore take up further debt. Yet Japans debt to GDP is already the highest in the world with currently 227%. Germany on the contrary has still a buffer consisting of domestic energy supplies and a much lower debt. Sadly, it seems that in order to compete efficiently, countries have to rely on nuclear energy.

The nuclear power exit also features increased use of fossil energy sources. Japan had been one of the very few developed-country supporters of the Kyoto protocol, but now they are cutting back their emission target for 2020. Japan and Germany presented themselves as the global leaders fighting carbon dioxide emissions and climate change a few years earlier. Now both countries are accepting increasing emissions – I believe they should decide on what their common policy towards the issue is, because without them the Kyoto protocol and its means will suffer a great loss of credibility.

Basically, there are two choices now; to go back to nuclear energy or to bury the Kyoto Protocol. In Japan, nuclear power will prevail even after Fukushima. In Germany, coal power plants are built although it is the dirtiest form of energy. Both countries new energy policies are not only contradicting to former goals, but also economically adverse. In my opinion and as it seems now,  they both come very close to a failure.

30th of April 2014




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