TOKYO, March 15, Kyodo
I know that it can be difficult receiving advice from an outsider. I write as someone who greatly admires Japanese culture, science and engineering.
Japan has made some smart energy decisions. Tokyo responded wisely to the Arab oil embargo in 1973 by shifting electricity generation away from oil. In 1974, oil was used to generate about 66 percent of Japan’s electricity and today is only used for 11 percent. Nuclear energy was then a smart choice because Japan has very limited fossil fuel reserves.
However, Japan risks becoming too dependent on nuclear power especially in light of the events at Fukushima Daiichi. Presently about 30 percent of electricity is generated from nuclear energy, but Tokyo plans to increase this capacity to as much as 50 percent by 2050.
I am not recommending that Japan phase out nuclear power. Instead, I am offering advice that I learned from Japanese colleagues. They have often said that they prefer a balanced portfolio in which a mix of energy sources is used for electricity generation.
Unfortunately, renewable energies have lagged behind. In 2010, the Japan Renewable Energy Policy Platform, an association of several renewable energy organizations, estimated that about two-thirds of Japan’s electricity could be produced from renewable sources. But Japan’s leadership has neither devoted enough attention and investments nor has developed effective government policies to promote these energy sources including solar, wind or geothermal.
One such policy is to raise the renewable portfolio standard to set an ambitious but realistic goal. Another policy is to apply feed-in-tariffs so that generators using renewable energy get additional financial incentives. The Japanese leadership also needs to address the public’s concerns about wind turbines and geothermal-generated electricity affecting Japan’s beautiful natural environment. And the leadership needs to not be unduly influenced by lobbyists representing nuclear and fossil fuel power plants.
The recent catastrophe presents a great opportunity for Japan to become a global leader in developing renewable energies that are more resistant to natural disasters and that will lead to a sustainable energy future.
(Charles D. Ferguson is the president of the Federation of American Scientists and the author of the forthcoming book ”Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know.”)