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Nuclear in Japan No More?

Looking for Phase-Out and New Renewable Solutions

Written by Brianna Panzica
Posted July 13, 2011

Nuclear power has lost a great deal of its popularity since the March 11 tsunami and earthquake in Japan caused the meltdown of 4 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.

Now Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has announced a plan to eliminate nuclear as a power source in Japan in the future, following in Germany’s footsteps.

Before the earthquake, Japan relied on nuclear for 30% of the nation’s total power, and their goal was to increase this to 53% by 2030.

But with the growing distrust of nuclear, Kan has decided it would be best to shut down this plan -- and all 54 reactors.

35 of these are already offline as a result of damage from the earthquake or routine testing procedures. Some fear they might not be brought back online.

With such a heavy reliance on nuclear power, immediate shutdown without alternative plans could go as far as creating power outages nationwide.

And though Kan has publicized his intentions, they have not been made clear.

The phase-out will be “planned and gradual,” he said according to Financial Times. But no concrete, or even estimated, date was given.

Kan himself has become increasingly unpopular as Prime Minister, just barely surviving a recent bid to oust him from office by claiming he would resign once recovery from the earthquake and tsunami is firmly on track.

But this announcement, over a month ago, is the last this was mentioned.

According to BBC News, merely 16% of Japanese voters believe Kan “is doing a good job.”

And some opposition exists to the total nuclear phase-out as well.

Companies such as Toshiba (TYO: 6502), Hitachi (NYSE: HIT), and Mitsubishi (PINK: MHVYY), massive Japanese companies, rely on nuclear technology.  A complete removal of nuclear could harm their business and output.

Vice chairman of Japan Atomic Energy Tatsujiro Suzuki has taken a realistic look into the alternative sources to nuclear.

Though Kan has indicated his desire to increase renewable energy sources, naming solar, wind power, and biomass, Suzuki does not think this could provide the immediate solution necessary.

In fact, the most likely option is going against the goal of 25% reduction in 1990 carbon emission levels by 2020.

“Probably the immediate risk would be increased consumption of fossil fuels that would lead also to CO2 emissions increases and other air pollution,” Suzuki said to Reuters.

Nuclear provides a much cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, and if nuclear power were phased out, Japan would become more reliant on imports of fossil fuels.

This would require a great deal of increased government spending.

But one Japanese company has a renewable suggestion that has been shirked off for over a year.

It would be a pretty huge venture, taking renewable energy somewhere it has never been before – space.

A year ago, Tetsuji Yoshida and Shimizu Corporation (TYO: 1803) suggested a huge solar operation on the moon.

Called the Luna Ring, the project would consist of 400km-wide solar panels that would stretch 6,800 miles around the moon’s equator.

In space, there would be no weather conditions to inhibit the panels’ functioning, and they would receive constant sunlight.

Energy harvested in the solar panels would be sent back to Earth through microwaves or lasers.

A project this large could have the capability to power the entire Earth.

Solar panels in space were proposed as early as 1968, even before man had set foot on the moon, due to the virtually perfect conditions provided by a lack of clouds, rain, wind, or snow.

Research started later, and various proposals have arisen including solar satellites.

This, however, is by far the biggest suggestion.

According to Yoshida, the construction would be conducted by robots, harvesting natural resources on the moon to actually create the panels.

Sounds completely sci-fi, right?

Yoshida claims it could be realistic as early as 2035.

Perhaps his voice will be heard this time around.

After all, this project could at least solve Japan’s energy problems.

That’s all for now,

Brianna

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