NPR: Shunning Nuclear Carries Costs for Japan


March 11, 2012 | Jesse Jenkins,


NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on the energy, economic, and climate challenges now facing Japan as its fleet of nuclear power plants sits idle following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns suffered one year ago.

For the first time in decades, the nation's treasured trade surplus is gone, eroded by soaring imports of fossil fuels needed to replace the 30 percent of the nation's electricity once supplied by more than 50 nuclear reactors idled since last March's disaster.

Joyce interviews Breakthrough Institute's Jesse Jenkins, who notes the economic and climate costs facing Japan as it turns away from nuclear energy:

For the first time in decades, Japan's vaunted trade surplus is gone. The country now spends more on imports than it earns from exports. What is Japan buying? Fuel.

"The major utilities in Japan have increased their consumption of fuel oil by more than double," says Jesse Jenkins, an energy analyst at the Breakthrough Institute, a research group. The institute is in favor of nuclear power as a hedge against climate warming. Japan, says Jenkins, "has increased their use of liquefied natural gas by about 27 percent and relied more heavily on coal as a share of their energy use."

And that's expensive. One analysis by the International Energy Agency in Paris says replacing the electricity from idled nuclear plants is costing Japan an extra $100 million a day.

Then there are the climate effects. The nuclear reactors were not emitting carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Oil, coal and natural gas do.

Jenkins says Japan's goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is now shelved. In fact, emissions are going up. "They're swapping fossil fuels for nuclear and that's driving up their CO2 emissions and the carbon intensity of their electricity supply," he says.


With essentially no domestic fossil fuel resources and a renewable energy sector that provides just about 2 percent of the nation's electricity supply today, there are no easy choices as Japan contemplates its energy future.

NPR cites original analysis by Jenkins and Breakthrough Fellow Mark Caine, which you can read in full here.

You can find our full collection of nuclear analyses and coverage here.

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