If you’re a fan of nuclear energy then you’ve been through a rough few years.
Sure, global nuclear power generation in 2013 accounted for 2.364 trillion kilowatthours— a 0.83 percent increase over 2012— but that’s also a 6.10 percent decrease from 2011. What started the downturn? Well, it’s pretty obviously a result of the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami that crippled Japan and led to one of the worst meltdowns in history at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility.
After the disaster the Japanese public’s sentiment soured— understandably—on nuclear power, which of course is typically clean and safe. The problem is that in those rare few occasions where something goes wrong with a nuclear facility, they go very wrong.
While the estimates on the amount of radiation still leaking from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant vary widely from organization to organization, the incident is still regarded as one of the most traumatic for a Japan which as recently as 2010 generated 27 percent of its electricity from nuclear. Following the disaster, the country moved to discontinue operations at all 50 of the nation’s plants pending analysis of nuclear power’s safety and reevaluation of their energy outlook for the next century.
That means the country needed to fill the role that nuclear power played in their nation energy makeup for the time-being. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in the time since the disaster electricity generation from petroleum increased from 7 percent of the country’s demand to 14 percent, natural gas went from 30 percent to 43 percent, coal moved from 24 percent to 30 percent and “other renewables” increased from 3 to 5.
That could all be changing now. According to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Japan is anticipating the reactivation of at least a few of its nuclear reactors before the end of 2015.
“Nuclear reactor restarts could begin as soon as May 2015, as Kyushu Electric's Sendai Units 1 and 2 in southwestern Japan received approval to restart from the Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) and local authorities in November 2014,” the EIA wrote. “The NRA also approved Kansai Electric's Takahama Units 3 and 4 at the end of 2014, although these units are still awaiting authorization from the local government. The timelines for restarting these units and other reactors that currently have applications pending before the NRA are uncertain in the face of more stringent regulations and, in some provinces, political opposition.”
While not exactly popular with a population that is still intensely wary of the potential fallout from another nuclear disaster, the reopening of some of Japan’s reactors could go a fair way in mitigating the financial burden that increased fossil fuel imports have laid on the country, especially natural gas since Japan has been importing greater and greater volumes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from sources outside of the country.