The Japanese are the only nation upon which atomic bombs have been dropped. They have always had a cautious approach to nuclear power, but nevertheless have managed to create an economy under which a third of their electrical power was dependent upon nuclear energy. After Fukushima the Government put the decision to continue to operate nuclear power plants in the hands of the municipalities, and within a few months of the nuclear accident at Fukushima all nuclear power plants in Japan were closed down, temporarily.
Nuclear energy is important to the Japanese economy. It is not important because it is cheap – nuclear energy is not cheap over its whole life cycle, but it is important because it is there. Japan has little in the way of fuel for energy and having decided to invest in nuclear energy, once that investment no longer produces a return, returning to fossil fuel becomes expensive and requires more investment.
In order to counter this when the nuclear power plants were closed down the Japanese campaigned for people to use 15% less electricity. It is a sensible campaign. In Japan as in every other nation much energy is wasted. By that I do not mean that everyone wastes energy, but many people and businesses do, and reducing consumption by 15% is probably a rather modest aim.
But governments, who mainly want to get re elected and often forget the reasons why the put themselves forward for election in the first place, get worried is they feel that they might not get re elected. The economy, stupid, is probably what determines the results of elections and as most governments’ foresight is mainly limited to the next election the Japanese government is becoming worried that using fossil fuel, which for Japan is more expensive than the already paid for nuclear reactors, is sending the price of electricity high and will make goods more expensive thus damaging exports thus creating unemployment.
As a result the Japanese are proposing to restart two nuclear power plants. If they do the price of electricity may fall, the economy may improve and that may pave the way for starting more nuclear power plants, although the one at Fukushima will never, I expect, come back into operation. As nuclear power plants are located on the coasts in order to use the ocean as a device to cool the large amounts of heat generated by the power plants, I expect the Japanese, much like the rest of the world, are praying that no new tsunami occurs.
The Japanese are unfortunately qualified to make judgements about nuclear power, and must decide whether nuclear power is a dangerous necessity or dangerous luxury.