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Japan's nuclear problems mean more fossil fuels for now

This aerial view taken on March 14, 2011 during an AFP-chartered flight shows an industrial area damaged by the tsunami in Sendai in Miyagi prefecture three days after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated the coast of eastern Japan.

Adriene Hill: Smoke was seen near one of the reactors at Japan's battered nuclear power plant. But according to officials, there's been little change in radiation levels. Whatever happens, the nuclear crisis is going to affect how Japan gets power. And as one of the world's largest electricity consumers, that's a big deal. A switch from nuclear to more fossil fuels will have consequences for global climate change goals.

As we continue to follow the human and economic tragedy in Japan, Eve Troeh reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.


Eve Troeh: When Japan signed the United Nations Kyoto Protocol, it promised to steadily reduce its carbon emissions. Nuclear energy has been a big part of that, since it's a low-carbon power source.

Henry Derwent heads the International Emissions Trading Association.

Henry Derwent: Their plans to meet their Kyoto target will have to be changed because they're going to be emitting more.

Emitting more carbon as they make up for lost nuclear power with coal, gas and oil. Though, given the disaster, Japan could renegotiate its Kyoto goals.

Europe is set to emit more as well. Germany has taken nuclear plants offline. Switzerland has suspended future projects. More fossil fuels there, too.

But any country that's agreed to reduce emissions, and will now pollute more, has to pay through buying carbon credits, says Point Carbon analyst Lisa Zelljadt.

Lisa Zelljadt: So if one cheap abatement opportunity, namely nuclear, falls by the wayside, then something else will have to make up for it, and carbon prices will be higher in the meantime.

But Zelljadt says no one's yet talking about the long-term choice: between radiation and carbon pollution.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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