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article imageJapan closing last nuclear reactor — Energy crisis looms?

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By Anne Sewell     May 4, 2012 in World
Tokyo - Bowing to pressure from the public in Japan, the country is planning to shut down its last operational nuclear plant. But what are the alternative sources of energy?
Following last year's Fukushima meltdown disaster, the normally quiet Japanese public have been up in arms about the dangers of nuclear energy.
The government has faced major pressure from environmental groups to abandon nuclear energy, following the disaster in which tens of thousands had to leave their homes due to dangerous levels of radiation in both local food and water supplies.
Now on Saturday, Japan is planning to shut down the Tomari plant, the last of Japan's 53 atomic power stations. This leaves Japan without nuclear energy for the first time in 50 years.
However, critics are saying that Japan has a huge energy quota to fill, and they predict that the nuclear-free future of Japan will be short-lived. They state that there is no viable alternative to nuclear power and that the country, already dependent on foreign fuel imports, will struggle to meet the energy demand.
Dr. Howard Hayden, Professor of Physics at Connecticut University, said recently that Japan “will probably go back to nuclear in due time because money talks. It’s costing them very dearly. They haven’t got nearly enough electricity and they have actually called on some factories to cut back their operations quite a bit."
He said that some factories in northern Japan have been effectively shut down due to power shortages.
“Eventually they will probably restart most of their reactors. The ones that are in possible danger of tsunamis, they’ll of course either shut down completely or build some much better protective walls around them,” Hayden added.
The Japanese government has been gradually de-commissioning and closing plants throughout the country.
Now resource-poor Japan is turning to find other methods of supplying energy in the country. Up until the March 2011 tsunami disaster, the country drew around 30% of its energy from nuclear power, a figure that was projected to rise to 50% by 2030 to meet increasing energy demands.
With the shut down of nuclear plants there is an expected shortfall to energy supplies and cities like Tokyo can expect power cuts as their supplies fall short by around 14%. In western Japan the shortfall is anticipated to be 16%.
Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister, Yukio Edano said in April: "I have to say we are facing the risk of a very severe electricity shortage." He added that rising fuel imports would be felt by the Japanese taxpayer.
Japan will have no choice but to increase its fuel imports to cover the deficit in a non-nuclear energy infrastructure.
The international energy agency predicts an increase in oil demand of 4.5 barrels a day, which will cost an additional $100 million. In an economy that reported its largest ever trade deficit in 2011, this is going to strike hard. According to the Japanese Finance Ministry, the deficit has already risen to $50 billion due to the extra fuel imports required to replace nuclear energy.
Environmental groups are stating that the closure of Japan's last operational nuclear plant is an opportunity to get Japan away from the use of atomic energy and to possibly follow the German model. However for Japan to create the infrastructure necessary for green energy will take a long time and would require significant investment.
At present Japan gets around 8% of the country's energy from renewable sources and is hoping to raise that figure to over 25% by 2030.
Experts believe that by shutting down its reactors, Japan could take an economic hit.
However, James Corbett, editor of the Corbett Report spoke to RT in the video above. “It does present a potential opportunity to Japan to exploit some of its other abilities to generate energy, including geothermal power.”
“It [Japan] is currently only generating 0.5 Gigawatts of power via geothermal power, but it has the potential for up to 23.5 Gigawatts. Obviously a lot of this is in national parks, in hot spring areas which are currently being used for tourism, but could be converted, at least potentially, to more energy generation.”
Corbett believes that with Japan's proximity to the ocean, this could be exploited to generate tidal power. He says that even the temperature difference in the ocean's currents could be used for generating electricity.
“These are experimental technologies at the moment, but Japan could become a leading nation in those types of energy generation techniques,” he added.
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