November 10, 2014


Japan Celebrates One Year Completely Nuclear-free: Second Phase of Energy [R]evolution Begins

Keywords: Newsletter Nuclear Power 

JFS Newsletter No.146 (October 2014)

Photo: Nuclear power plant. (Ohi, Japan)
Image by midorisyu Some Rights Reserved.

The Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 caused a tremendous damage and loss of life, as well as a serious nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). The accident led to a national review of nuclear policies, and after series of shutdowns, Japan has had no nuclear plants operating for more than one year, since September 15, 2013.

Decrease rate of electricity sales and operation rate of nuclear power plants

With Greenpeace Japan's kind permission, we reprint this briefing paper, "Nuclear Free Japan one year," which was released on September 10, 2014. It covers Japan's energy mix, carbon dioxide emissions, and the growing use of renewable energy by comparing the situation before and after the nuclear accident.

(Below is our adapted version of the original Japanese article.)


On September 15, 2014, Japan marked the passage of one complete year with no commercial nuclear reactors in operation. On that date a year earlier, Kansai Electric shut down the Ohi 4 reactor in Fukui Prefecture -- which was the only reactor operating in Japan at the time.

Immediately after the unprecedented March 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, owned by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), many people believed it was an unrealistic hope for Japan to become nuclear-free. However, only three and a half years after the accident, Japan celebrated one full year without any electricity from its nuclear reactors, surviving even a hot summer, when electricity demand normally reaches its annual peak.

There has been a delay in restarting 20 reactors at 13 nuclear power plants, for which electric companies have applied for government permission to restart. Meanwhile, citizens and businesses are becoming a driving force by introducing renewable, making voluntary efforts at energy conservation, and increasing energy efficiency by involving local communities. Japan has proven that it is able to sustain itself without nuclear power for more than a year, so the tables have turned: it is now looking more unrealistic for Japan to expect nuclear to be a leading source of electricity. The day Japan celebrated one full nuclear-free year should be seen as Day One of Japan's renewable energy revolution -- a revolution that will firmly establish the safer and more sustainable renewable forms of energy.

Japan's Nuclear-Free Year

The devastating meltdown of three reactors at TEPCO's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011 was just the beginning, and the situation is still increasing in seriousness. These events have triggered a greater public awareness of the risks of nuclear power, and led to one nuclear power plant after another being shut down. Electric power companies owning nuclear power plants are eager to restart them, but among the 54 reactors across Japan which at one point supplied 30% of electricity nationwide, it has become a certainty that all six reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant will be decommissioned. As for the remaining 48 reactors, 46 of them (96%) have not been used at all for over two years. And on September 15, 2014, Japan reached a milestone of one nuclear-free year, without any blackouts or brownouts. A whole year without even one kilowatt from nuclear power.

Energy Saving and Natural Gas Have Offset the Electricity Shortage from Nuclear

The shortage of electricity not being generated by nuclear power has been covered by a reduction in electricity demand (from a combination of energy conservation and energy efficiency), and increased power generation, primarily from natural gas, followed by coal and oil.

1.7 Trillion Yen, 13 Nuclear Reactors: The Power of Energy Efficiency

According to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), electricity generated by thermal power plants increased by 190 Twh (134%) in FY2013, compared with FY2010. On the other hand, total electricity generation declined by 78.9 Twh in the same period, as result of increased energy efficiency and conservation. This reduction in electricity demand represents a saving of 1.7 trillion yen, the equivalent cost of generation by imported fossil fuels. The reduction of 78.9 Twh is the same amount of electricity that 13 nuclear reactors would generate in an entire year, and would sufficiently supply 22 million Japanese households. Japan's GDP is the third largest in the world, and while it declined by around 10% during the same period, it was at its sixth highest point since 1960 as of FY2013. Japan's highest ever GDP was recorded in FY2012.

65% of Increased Fuel Costs Caused by Weaker Yen and Higher Oil Prices

Between FY2010 and FY2013, fossil fuel consumption at Japan's ten utilities increased by 38%, but purchasing cost increased by 126%. In the same period, their fossil fuel purchases increased from 3.2 trillion yen to 7.2 trillion yen, sometimes described as a 4 trillion yen loss of national wealth. But the Institute of Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP) estimates that if fluctuations in oil prices are eliminated from the calculation, the increase in fossil fuel purchases would have been 4.6 trillion yen, including 1.4 trillion yen due to the nuclear shutdown. ISEP's study concludes that 65% of the 4 trillion, or 2.6 trillion, was lost due to a combination of the depreciation of the Japanese yen and increased oil prices in the global market.

What Is the Best Answer to Avoid Draining National Wealth?

Table 1 below describes a comparison of three electricity generation sources. Importing uranium and fossil fuels means continuing to send trillions of yen abroad every year. The most logical answer, if Japan wished to avoid draining its national wealth, would be setting ambitious goals and establishing the necessary policies as soon as possible, aiming at expansion of energy efficiency and energy saving as well as promoting renewable energy even further -- rather than attempting to restart nuclear plants or increasing fossil-fuel electricity generation.

No Rapid Increase of CO2 Emissions

All in all, the country's rise in CO2 emissions after Fukushima has been surprisingly moderate -- notably smaller than what might have been expected in proportion to the sudden loss of the world's third largest nuclear reactor fleet.

Coal and oil consumption, while up from 2010 to 2012, were still below the levels before the 2008 economic crisis. The CO2 emissions from Japan's energy sector -- both pre and post-Fukushima disaster -- have maintained the similar (unsustainable) growth trajectory that existed before the disaster. The period 2009 - 2010 saw an annual CO2 increase of approximately 7%, while 2010 - 2012 saw a rise of less than 8% in CO2 emissions. In short, the post-Fukushima CO2 figures do not represent anything close to a sudden, drastic increase, but rather a continuation of emission trends that were already problematic, and partly reflect a bounce-back from the 2008 economic crisis.

Renewables Now Generate Equivalent of 3 Nuclear Reactors and Are Growing

Since the start of Japan's Feed in Tariff (FIT) scheme in July 2012, there has been a rapid nationwide increase in power generation from renewable energy, particularly solar. A total of 18.1 Twh, sufficient to supply five million Japanese households for an entire year, was generated in FY2013 from renewable energy (excluding large hydroelectric). This is equivalent to the electricity that would have been generated by three nuclear reactors in one year. As a whole, 28.7 Twh of electricity has been generated from solar, wind, geothermal, small hydroelectric, and biomass in Japan since the beginning of the FIT to May 2014.

Power to the People - 530,000 Micro Solar Power Stations

In the 23 months from the beginning of the FIT to May 2014, 680,000 new renewable power stations started to operate Japan-wide. Most of that new capacity of 10.4 GW came from decentralized power stations, particularly small scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. According to METI, the majority (530,000 out of the 680,000 cases) were solar panels rated at less than 10 kw, made for households. This means that every month 23,000 households in Japan became micro solar power stations, making the transition from being electricity consumers, to become producers of their own clean and safe electricity. These half a million micro solar power stations generated 8.5 Twh in that 23-month period - equivalent to the electricity that could be generated in a year by 1.4 nuclear reactors.

Conclusion: From One Nuclear-Free Year to the Next Stage -- Accelerating the Green Energy Revolution

The notion that every commercial nuclear reactor in Japan, accounting for 30% of the nation's energy mix, would be shut down for over a year would have been unimaginable before the Fukushima No.1 nuclear accident. Nonetheless the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the introduction of the FIT, and the people of Japan themselves have triggered a massive change. By September 15, 2014, for the first time in nearly half a century, Japan had been free of nuclear electricity for an entire year. This rapid reduction in nuclear electricity generation was unprecedented in the history of nuclear power globally. And significantly, it caused no electricity blackouts, though they were raised as a concern at the beginning of nationwide nuclear shutdown.

Greenpeace issued its Energy [R]evolution scenario for Japan six months after the Fukushima disaster. It showed that the country could stop operating all its reactors in 2012 without creating blackouts. The scenario has become reality. The potential for solar PV installation predicted in the document has also been matched by actual developments. It goes on to demonstrate that Japan can gain 43% of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

Nuclear power plants did not resume operations by the summer of 2014, and many unresolved safety, legal and political challenges still lie ahead. Led by citizens, communities, and industry, Japan is moving forward to increase energy efficiency and expand the supply of renewable energy.

The government, however, is ignoring the lessons of Fukushima and attempting to delay the renewable revolution, trying to take the nation back to its dependence on dangerous and unreliable nuclear power. It's the wrong energy policy for the future of Japan. Policy should be based on energy efficiency and renewables. The government should be focusing on numerous tasks such as managing the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima, supporting its victims, securing safety for residents near the plants, and setting aggressive national targets for energy efficiency, renewables, and CO2 emission reductions, rather than restarting nuclear reactors. Greenpeace stands together with the people of Japan to demand that this historic one year of being nuclear free should be the beginning of a clean and safe energy future.

Adapted from Greenpeace Japan's briefing paper "Nuclear Free Japan one year" released on September 10, 2014

See also: Nuclear Free Japan one year