Unreliable inexperienced power: The world has gone again to coal and nuclear energy – are you pleased with that?
By Vijay Jayaraj
Japan has struggled to boost its economy since an earthquake and tsunami severely damaged Fukushima’s nuclear reactors. While the country’s first response to the 2011 disaster was to abandon a once-robust nuclear program, a decade later Japan is not only returning to nuclear fission, but is also attempting to burn more fossil fuels than once could have been imagined.
In a way, Japan is an example of what is happening in developed economies around the world. More countries are recognizing the importance of nuclear energy, and a growing number of Westerners are reluctant to give up fossil fuels despite publicly vowing to do so.
Japan: An economy based on nuclear power, oil, coal and gas
Tokyo’s move away from nuclear power was entirely due to unwarranted fears surrounding the technology. However, once it became clear that Fukushima was more of a natural disaster than a major engineering failure, the country began reversing its nuclear cuts and is now firmly on track with an ambitious plan to deploy power reactors.
Historically, much of Japan’s electricity needs have been met by fossil fuels, particularly coal. Then, in the late 2000s, Japan, like most of the developed economies of Europe and North America, faced pressure to reduce coal use to address a perceived climate emergency. However, Japan is now realizing that with the latest technology, it can continue to use coal, which significantly reduces pollution.
Covering a new clean coal-fired power plant receiving US$384 million in public funding, Nikkei Asia reports that the country’s initiatives are bearing fruit and providing much-needed electricity.
“Japan, which gets about a third of its electricity from coal, sees the project as key to its policy of safely achieving energy security and economic and environmental efficiency,” said Nikkei Asia.
Citing Japan’s latest energy plan, the publication said coal is “currently an important energy source with excellent stability of supply and economic efficiency because it has the least geopolitical risk in terms of procurement, is cheap and easy to store.”
It’s likely that Japan will fall back to its coal power if needed.
The country’s decision to oppose the global anti-coal movement may seem unique, but more and more countries find themselves in a situation where they have no choice but to remain dependent on fossil fuels.
Nuclear and Fossil Fuels: An Emerging Global Pattern
The US and France rely heavily on nuclear energy. More than 50 percent of all electricity generated in Slovakia, Ukraine and Belgium comes from nuclear power plants.
Germany is an outspoken opponent of nuclear power and is somewhat the exception when it comes to shutting down nuclear power plants in the midst of an energy crisis. Still, Germany has consistently failed on its promise to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and is now turning back to coal. In 2022, Germany imported 44.4 million tons of coal, an eight percent increase from 2021. That’s no surprise.
Global leaders in the fight against fossil fuels include leaders from the UK, US, EU, Canada and Australia. Nonetheless, many of them, particularly in the EU, remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels for a variety of reasons.
In the EU, gas shortages due to disruptions in Russian gas supplies and a shamefully incompetent transition policy towards renewable energy created a shortage of fuel for power generation.
Thomas Moller-Nielsen writes in the Brussels Times that “the increase in coal consumption in the EU is particularly ironic given that the Union has previously urged the big polluters to take urgent action to combat climate change .” Indeed, in an unprecedented role reversal, China recently called on European leaders to take “positive action” to counter man-made global warming.”
So we are dealing with a situation where the reality of energy demand is forcing these advanced economies to resort to trustworthy fossil fuels and highly efficient nuclear power. Unreliable solar and wind turbines cannot meet demand, and attempts to do so are likely to result in national bankruptcies.
This comment was first published in the Daily Caller on May 5, 2023 and can be accessed here.
Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a Masters in Environmental Sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK and is based in India.
tags: Fossil Fuels, Nuclear Energy, Vijay Jayaraj, Fukushima, Japan, Fukushima Japan