Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is Coal an Answer to the Fukushima Disaster?

In light of the terrible disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan has had to find new ways to meet the energy needs of the country. On March 11, 2011, three of the nuclear plant’s reactors blew when the plant was hit by a tsunami that was triggered by the Tohoku earthquake. This nuclear disaster was the largest incident since Chernobyl and measured a level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
Since this disaster, Japan has been reluctant to produce much nuclear energy. According to the Wall Street Journal (class members: article posted on Blackboard under Readings), all 48 of the nuclear power plants in Japan are offline at the moment. Some regulators expect to see some of these plants activated again in the near future; Japan has also become a leader in coal imports globally (Iwata, 2014). It is currently the second largest importer of coal, right behind China and before India (Iwata, 2014). Japan currently imports about 85% of its energy requirements. Japan’s nuclear reactors were supposed to generate 40% of the country’s electricity around 2017, (an increase from the past rate of 30%.) However after the Fukushima disaster, these rates have been cut almost in half and there will be a longer process in place to gain clearance for restarting the 48 nuclear reactors in Japan.
Japan is in a tough situation in terms of where to go for energy. It is difficult to say whether Japan should reinstate the 48 reactors and begin producing nuclear energy again. If the disaster had not happened, Japan could currently be producing 40% of its energy domestically through nuclear plants. If the benefits of continuing with nuclear power outweigh the costs of another possible disaster, I would say to proceed. I personally do not believe that the road leading to coal is the best road to take, but I can understand the reluctance of Japan to jump back into nuclear energy. It seems to me that the best way for Japan to continue would be to use coal imports for short term relief while the nation decides whether or not to reinstate the nuclear reactors, and focus on more sustainable energy sources for the long term, like wind energy.
--Shelby Conrad

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