JAPAN | FROM SQUARE ONE / High price of going nuclear-free

Posted on June 15, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | 15 June 2011

This year, Japan will produce extra electricity from natural gas, oil and other fuels at an additional cost of 2.4 trillion yen, according to Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry estimates. The extra expense is due to reduced usage of nuclear power, as a number of nuclear plants have been shut down for regular inspections or due to emergency concerns.

From next year, the added annual costs are expected to total 3 trillion yen.

“The rising costs will result in greater burdens on the people,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda said during a June 7 meeting of the Council on the Realization of the New Growth Strategy.

“We’ll seek the public’s understanding on nuclear power generation, and we’d like to reactivate [the nuclear power plants currently not in use] and use all possible means of providing electricity.”

By how much will Japan’s carbon dioxide emissions increase if all electricity generated by the 54 nuclear reactors in the nation was derived instead from thermal power?

Kaieda said his ministry has yet to make an estimate.

But in a report released June 1, the Japan Center for Economic Research said if all nuclear power in Japan was replaced with fossil-fuel alternatives, CO2 emissions would rise by 7.5 million tons a year, an amount equal to 6 percent of the nation’s current yearly total.

Sixteen nuclear reactors were out of operation for inspections when the earthquake hit on March 11. If they were to be kept out of operation and replaced with fossil-fuel facilities, total annual CO2 emissions from power generation would be 190 million tons, according to the Environment Ministry. That figure is 15 percent more than Japan’s total CO2 emissions from power generation in 1990.

Replacing nuclear power with other energy sources would be a mighty challenge. Issues likely to present complications include importing natural gas and oil, reactivating thermal power plants currently not in use and increasing the number of thermal power plants.

The Japan Center for Economic Research has estimated the nation’s gross domestic product would decline by 1.4 percent this fiscal year even if all thermal power plants were operated at full capacity.

If all Japan’s nuclear power plants were to stop operating next year, GDP could fall a further 2.2 percent, according to the center.

“The crisis at the Fukushima power plant has become bigger than an energy issue. It’s a mid- and long-term issue for the economy,” said Tatsuo Kobayashi, a chief economist at the center.

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