In a first for Japan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, public support for a nuclear restart is now at more than 60%, said a former executive director of the International Energy Agency, citing a possible energy shortage and a “very cold winter” as reasons.
“Japanese public support’s more than 60%, and it was the first time ever that support of nuclear power is starting to come over 50% after (the) Fukushima accident,” said Nobuo Tanaka, now the chair of the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum. He was speaking at the 2022 Global Supertrends Conference.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced in May that the country will take firm steps to restart idled nuclear power plants to stabilize energy supply and prices.
In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami, which killed nearly 16,000 people and caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Though there have been reservations among the Japanese public over the use of nuclear energy, particularly when it comes to the issue of safety, Tanaka said the future of nuclear power is now safer, and stressed the importance of minimizing risk and maintaining “peaceful use.”
Tanaka attributed the increase in public support to the possibility of “serious problems by the end of this year” if Japan does not have nuclear power.
He added that Russia supplies 9% of Japan’s natural gas, and losing that supply could spell trouble for the country as it would have to turn to alternative sources, which would lead to a spike in energy prices.
Japan has repeatedly criticized Russian aggression in Ukraine and has slapped Moscow with economic sanctions. In response, Russia sanctioned over 300 Japanese lawmakers in July.
Russia recently cut gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to just a fifth of its capacity. Moscow has repeatedly denied it is weaponizing fossil fuel supplies over the Russia-Ukraine war.
Tanaka said that Japan wants to secure energy supplies but also work toward reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, and striking that balance could prove increasingly challenging.
Nuclear power has been touted as an important option for decarbonization.
“Japan is trying to secure the supply of energy, especially electricity, while trying to maintain the targets of carbon neutral by 2050 intact. So this is really (a) challenge for Japan to do many things,” he said.