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Tokyo to diversify energy mix as Japanese turn against N-technology

Ashok Tuteja | Fukushima (Japan) |

At a time when India is desperately stitching civil nuclear deals to meet its growing energy needs, Japan is working overtime to develop alternate energy sources amid growing domestic concerns over the safety of nuclear plants in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

Incidentally, Japan’s quest to diversify its energy mix comes at a time when it is engaged in negotiations with India for deciding the broad contours of the cooperation under the bilateral civil nuclear agreement which recently became operational.

A team of foreign journalists which visited Japan last week found there is increasing opposition to nuclear energy in the country following the tsunami in March 2011 that hit Fukushima, killing almost 16,000 people and causing the shutdown of the nuclear power plant in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

”People have lost confidence in the nuclear community…even after six years, there is no satisfactory explanation why the Fukushima tragedy occurred,” according to Nobuo Tanaka of the Tokyo-based Sasakawa Peace Foundation. He said the authorities apparently did not prepare themselves for the possible risk of tsunami despite warnings from geologists. The meltdown at Fukushima could have been avoided if adequate measures had been put in place, he added.

Asked why Tokyo signed a nuclear deal with India when Japanese are so concerned over nuclear issues, Tanaka acknowledged that the Indo-US nuclear accord had facilitated the India-Japan pact while drawing attention to a significant clause in the agreement which says that Japan would pull out of it if India were to conduct another nuclear test.

With the Arab Spring disrupting oil supplies to Japan, new measures need to be put in place to increase the country’s energy mix, experts in both the government and the private sector said.

“Japan does not have indigenous energy sources. So we are very much concerned about our energy security,” said Misako Takahashi, Director of Economic Security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Natural gas and coal, she said, had started playing a dominant role in the country’s energy mix.

“The liability of Japan’s economic development is that we don’t have any indigenous energy sources, so we have to import all the energy we need for our economic growth,” Takahashi said.

Of the nearly 55 nuclear reactors that were being operated or were under construction in Japan, only a few are currently in operation. While the nuclear power plant at Fukushima has been inspected and is ready to resume operations, the local authorities are hesitant to give their approval due to opposition from the public.

The country’s nuclear policy is expected to be one of the main issues in the upcoming elections because of the controversy surrounding it.

Masaru Nakaiwa, Director General at the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute, said the situation at the disaster site was absolutely normal but there were apprehensions among the people about the safety of the nuclear plant. Despite the best efforts of the authorities, people who had left the area following the tsunami are reluctant to return home. ”People have suffered. Many people continue to go through the trauma of after-effects of radiation. They don’t want to go back to Fukushima,” Nakaiwa said.

Koji Shibazaki, technical director at Fukushima Soden, a major electricity distribution company, said his organisation was set up after the Fukushima disaster with the aim of creating a sustainable energy society. He said though it would be difficult for Japan to do away with nuclear plants since such a move could affect local economies, alternate sources of energy needed to be encouraged. He, however, added that he was personally against nuclear energy.

Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s plan was to meet 50 per cent its power requirement from nuclear energy. However, the plan appears to have gone awry and the stress now is on finding new and renewable energy sources.