On March 11, 2011, the world witnessed a major nuclear disaster live. We all keep in mind the image of the explosion of a power plant's reactor as well as the destructive waves that swept over the coasts. A magnitude 9 earthquake was at the origin of a devastating and murderous scenario pushing us to question again about the place of nuclear in our societies. This happened in Japan in the city of Fukushima 10 years ago.
The country yesterday commemorated the sad anniversary of what was the second largest nuclear power plant disaster in history. It has been classified at level 7 which represents the highest rank on the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). It is at the same level of gravity as the Chernobyl disaster which took place in 1986.
This anniversary date is an opportunity to take stock of the nuclear policy envisaged by the Japanese authorities for the coming years and to measure the existing divide between the government and its population in terms of energy production.
The Fukushima accident forced the Japanese government to shut down many of its nuclear power plants. To compensate for the energy deficit thus created, the government turned to fossil fuels. The country's 140 coal-fired power stations have been operating at full capacity for several years. They alone produce a third of the country's electricity. In addition, there are other thermal sources such as petroleum and liquefied natural gas. These sources of fossil energy are obviously highly emitting CO² and do not fit well with the commitments of nations to fight against global warming which Japan intends to be part of. With its rank of 5th carbon emitter in the world, the Japanese government reacts and chooses to relaunch nuclear power. Its objective is twofold: to reach 20 to 22% of electricity of nuclear origin by 2030 and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% between 2013 and 2050. When we know that fossil fuels will represent 56% of the need total energy of the country in 2030, one suspects that Japan will have to deploy considerable means to reach its objective of 2050. Initially, it is a question of restarting its current nuclear park and to supplement it with the construction new plants.
However, this nuclear recovery plan is far from gaining unanimity within the Japanese political class but also among the population. Like the former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who spoke on Monday, March 1 at a press conference: " " Japan has many natural sources of energy such as solar energy, hydroelectricity and wind power. Why should we use something that is more expensive and less secure ? " .
The population, for its part, deeply traumatized by the disaster, shares this opinion. Indeed, a recent poll showed that a large majority was in favor of reducing the fleet, or even stopping it altogether in order to turn to renewable energy sources.
The government, aware of the fears, is trying to reassure its population by declaring that nuclear energy will be the subject of special attention for optimal security. Above all, he wishes to rally as many votes as possible for his recovery plan by highlighting the essential energy independence of Japan as well as the fight against climatic disturbances to which the country is increasingly exposed. It is in this sense that the Minister of Industry, Hiroshi Kajiyama, confirmed to the Financial Times in early February that "nuclear energy will be essential if Japan is to achieve its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. " . The Japanese government also highlights the limited power of renewable energies. They would only be able to supply about 60% of the country's electricity needs. Yet, as the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policy (Isep) has shown, Japan has the third largest photovoltaic installation in the world after China and the United States, but it will be insufficient to avoid power cuts. Japan will not be able to ignore nuclear power in its energy mix.
A delicate subject if ever there is one, the Japanese government must also face international criticism concerning its export to developing countries of coal-fired power stations. In 2019, Greenpeace showed that: »coal-fired power stations financed by Japan in developing countries in Asia (mainly Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam) pollute fifteen to forty times more than power stations built in Japan since 2012. "
That the Japanese government wants to comply with the Paris Agreement and thereby strengthen its image is excellent, nevertheless climate change is a global threat. It will therefore be necessary to show more than strong commitments within its borders to be credible and coherent.