While we were all busy sipping margaritas for Cinco de Mayo, Japan shut down its last working nuclear reactor last Saturday. As of today, all of the country’s 54 nuclear reactors are offline. This is the first time that Japan has been without nuclear-derived electricity in over 40 years. The event coincided with Children's Day celebrations.
Nuclear plants were shut down as part of a safety exercise imposed after the 2011 earthquake. After the facilities receive routine maintenance and pass a number of stress tests, local authorities must give their consent to get them back up and running. Meanwhile, thousands are marching demanding an end to nuclear power.
Opinion polls held at a national level indicate that about 60% of Japanese are opposed to an immediate restart. While some demand stronger guarantees and safety precautions, others would like nuclear reactors gone for good. But could Japan survive without nuclear power? The short answer to that is maybe, but not anytime soon.
Some are concerned about the profound impact that a nuclear-free future could have in Japan’s economy. Throughout this year, Japan’s natural gas imports alone have climbed by 52% in value. Renewable energy, which accounts for about 10% of Japan’s energy, will not do the trick either. Hundreds could also lose their jobs.
Some political factions are calling on Japan to gradually wean itself from nuclear power. In the meantime, the government is trying to get public backing to restart enough reactors to help ease expected power shortages.
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