Fifteen months after an earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japan has decided that it cannot do without nuclear power after all. There are, however, signs of a fresh commitment to renewable energy.
All 50 of the country's reactors – which supplied about 30 per cent of the country's electricity – were shut down for maintenance and safety checks in the aftermath of the disaster. The last reactor went offline last month, leaving Japan nuclear-free.
Now, with an energy crunch predicted for the summer, it seems that nuclear power is on the way back. Last weekend, Japan's prime minister Yoshihiko Noda gave the Kansai Electric Power Company the go-ahead to restart reactors 3 and 4 at the company's Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, on the west coast of the country.
Return of confidence
Despite continuing public unease about nuclear power in the wake of last year's disaster, Noda hinted in April that Japan would be severely hobbled without it. Relying on energy generated by fossil fuels would prevent Japan from meeting its obligations to cut climate-changing greenhouse gases.
The two Fukui reactors, due to restart in early July, will add 2.36 million kilowatts to the supply in western Japan.
Whether additional reactors will come online remains to be seen. "It does indicate there's a return of confidence to a certain extent," says Andrew Sherry , director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, UK. "How strong it is, I don't know, but I think people recognise the need for an energy mix, and nuclear provides a low-carbon component of that.
In a sign of parallel commitments to boost green energy, Yukio Edano, Japan's minister of economy, trade and industry, this week introduced tariffs to drive the provision of renewable energy. They will force utility companies to buy electricity from solar, wind and geothermal suppliers at preset premiums for at least two decades.