December 21, 2013

This past week, an on-line colleague sent me his position on Japan’s current energy situation. His name is Lars Hanson. He has been giving me insights on Japan, its history and culture for a few years. I think his insights are poignant and timely. His communique was spurred by a recent Tepco Press release I posted, about the operational commencement of a new 1,000 MWe coal-fired generating plant at Hitachinaka. Here’s what Lars had to say…

“Thanks for forwarding [the Tepco Press release].  No surprises here, though.

The understandably adverse reaction to nuclear power in the wake of the accidents at Fukushima and the subsequent shutdowns of Japanese nuclear power plants has left Japan facing an enormous shortage of energy.  The result has been (so far) an average of $12 billion a month in fuel importation costs, as well as damaging the highly energy-dependent Japanese economy.  (It is ironic that Japan’s entry into World War II was in part spurred by the Japanese economy’s need for energy sources… specifically fuel.)  It seems to me that the fuel shortfall can only increase as Japan strives to replace the lost nuclear generating capacity with fossil-fueled energy sources.

The Japanese experience also should serve as a lesson in the limitations of “renewable” energy sources.  Of these sources, it seems only hydroelectric and biofuel sources are truly renewable and dependable, and thus capable of supplying base load needs.  Of these two, biofuels can only be produced domestically if Japan is willing to convert vitally needed agricultural land to growing biofuels.  The land issues in Japan truly are a zero-sum game.  Either bio-fuel must be imported, or, if the decision is made to convert arable land to producing biofuel, then additional food must be imported.

It is considerations of energy sources that drove Japan’s economic decisions to rely on nuclear power, despite a general Japanese public aversion to things nuclear in the wake of the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It appears that Fukushima may reverse those decisions but only at a large cost to the Japanese economy.  In the long run, if the Japanese economy is to survive and prosper, it seems quite likely the Japanese will once again have to turn to nuclear power, albeit with far greater safety restrictions

The Japanese economic challenges admittedly are exacerbated because it is an island nation without the natural energy resources required to support its once-booming economy.  The choices are starker for Japan than elsewhere, perhaps, but the contrasts in possible energy solutions nevertheless seem to parallel those for other regions of the world.  Consider Japan’s economy as a microcosm of the global economy and the parallels should become clear.”

Thanks, Lars.