Japan scraps energy plan

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks before press at his official residence in Tokyo on May 10, 2011.

Kai Ryssdal: In Japan today, Prime Minister Naoto Kan moved his country firmly away from nuclear power. Kan said he's scrapping plans to build new reactors, enough reactors that would have gotten nuclear to be as much as 50 percent of Japan's total power supply. Instead, there'll be a new emphasis on renewables and conservation.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Scott Tong reports.


Scott Tong: Japan's plans for 14 new nuclear plants just went kaput. The prime minister said it's "back to the drawing board" for energy policy.

Robert Alvarez is with the Institute for Policy Studies.

Robert Alvarez: This pretty much marks the end of Japan's romance with the atom.

They had been lovers. Thirty percent of Japan's energy comes from nuclear, and was on its way to 50. Now, Alvarez thinks even the old plants:

Alvarez: Will be eventually closed and Japan will move on to other energy sources.

Exactly which sources -- natural gas, coal, renewables -- is unclear. But not everyone sees a U-turn coming; the re-assessment hasn't started yet, and this could be a ploy from an unpopular politician. At the very least, it's a pause.

Economist Arthur Alexander at Georgetown says ever since OPEC's oil embargoes of the '70s, Japan's has looked for domestic energy supplies.

Arthur Alexander: Nuclear power looked like the way to go, because it becomes geographically independent of other sources. That has been the direction.

Sheila Smith at the Council on Foreign Relations thinks every country -- the U.S., China, Germany, France -- will watch Japan's nuclear re-think closely. And in the end, it could benefit Japanese companies.

Sheila Smith: The industry experts in Japan are going to be leading this conversation on safety. So to the extent that which you have improvements on design, you'll have Japanese companies at the forefront of that learning process.

Only a few firms make nuclear energy containment vessels -- most are Japanese.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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