Japan Charts Path to Return to Nuclear Power

Japan's plan to return to nuclear power would reverse the government policy set in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Feb 26, 2014 at 10:20AM

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The Wall Street Journal reported on a 20-year strategic energy plan released by the Japanese government that calls for a return to nuclear power. The plan, expected to be approved by the Prime Minister's cabinet, would reverse government policy set since the Fukushima crisis in 2011 of shuttering nuclear power plants. Currently, Japan's 48 reactors sit idle, but several are under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority to assess their safety. If deemed to be safe, Japan may allow them to restart.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a commitment to return to nuclear power when he became Prime Minister in 2012. He argues that closing down Japan's nuclear power plants has led to a sharp increase in fossil fuel imports, leading to record trade deficits that have inflicted a high economic toll. The new energy plan declares that nuclear power is "an important baseload electricity source," indicating that it will be at the center of Japan's energy policy for decades.

Japanese public opinion is largely split on the issue, with firm opposition to nuclear power from at least half of those polled.

A return to nuclear power would be a dramatic shift in Japan's energy landscape. Nuclear power once accounted for about one-third of total electricity generation. After Fukushima, it essentially dropped to zero, with the balance made up for by imported LNG, coal, and oil. Restarting reactors will allow the country to pare back those imports. There are currently 17 reactors with pending applications seeking a green light to restart.

Meanwhile, the potential return to nuclear power for Japan has not gone unnoticed in the uranium market. Bloomberg reported that prices for uranium are expected to climb 40% by the end of the year in anticipation of a spike in demand in Japan. Prices are currently half of what they were before the 2011 meltdown.

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Written by James Burgess at Oilprice.com.

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