New Paper on future energy options in Japan after the Fukushima nuclear crisis

A new paper involving Environment Institute members Sanghyun Hong (also IMER), Corey Bradshaw (also SARDI) and Barry Brook has recently been published in the journal Energy Policy.

The paper ‘Evaluating options for the future energy mix of Japan after the Fukushima nuclear crisis’ reviews and quantifies a range of tangible negative environmental, economic and social impacts of the four proposed energy mixes in Japan. Using data describing levelised cost of electricity, energy security, greenhouse-gas emissions, land transformation, water consumption, heated-water discharge, air pollution, radioactive waste, solid waste, and safety issues, the authors conclude that:

  • the nuclear-free scenario has more negative impacts than the current condition,
  • to meet the greenhouse-gas-emission guidelines, more than 35% nuclear power supply is essential,
  • to minimise accident risk, or possible fatalities from electricity generation, fossil fuels should be avoided rather than nuclear power,
  • despite restoration and compensation costs, a higher penetration of nuclear power will lead to cheaper levelised costs of energy, and
  • the less that nuclear power is used, the lower will be the sustainability of the future Japanese energy system.

After the Fukushima nuclear accident social and political reluctance to embrace nuclear power in Japan (and elsewhere) has increased. The Japanese government has thus been considering four possible future energy mixes, including a nuclear-free pathway, and three others with 10%-35% nuclear supply coupled with a larger proportion of renewable energy and fossil fuels to replace nuclear.

The study finds that the nuclear-free pathway has the highest overall potential for adverse outcomes, and the 35% nuclear power supply option yielding the lowest negative impact score without weightings. Despite some sensitivity to the choice of criterion weights, the author’s analysis demonstrates clearly that from a practical perspective, a nuclear-free pathway for Japan is the worst option to pursue.

The authors note concerns not addressed in the paper include fears of nuclear weapon proliferation, waste disposal and background radiation, but view these as questionable, especially for later-generation nuclear power technology (Brook, 2012). They note the biggest challenges to implementing a sustainable energy future in Japan are restoring the public acceptance of and confidence in nuclear power, further improving safety mechanisms and management culture, and providing better public education on the difficult but unavoidable trade-offs involved in energy policy.

The researchers recommend the evaluation methodology they have used for Japan as it can be applied to other countries to evaluate future electricity generation scenarios.

Download the paper to find out more.

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