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Sunday, April 22, 2012
Cutting CO₂ without reactors
An Environment Ministry draft report states that Japan can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent without relying on nuclear power. This news is most welcome after the dangers of nuclear power were starkly exposed by the Fukushima nuclear fiasco.
The report suggests that even with all reactors offline, cuts could reach 33 percent, depending on efforts to conserve energy and to adopt renewable energy sources. Even more conservative estimates from a similar trade and industry ministry report found that reductions of 16 percent are possible with all reactors offline.
Both reports suggest that Japan will be able to keep its pledge of reducing gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, highlighting a long-standing truth that reductions in the most harmful heat-trapping gas emissions can be achieved without nuclear power despite claims to the contrary by advocates of nuclear energy. The government should translate this truth into a policy of nonnuclear energy production.
Questions still abound, however. Why were such reports not published before the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster? What has changed since then? The answer is public sentiment. Clearly, the authors of the report were encouraged by the moderate success of last summer's energy-saving campaign. Reductions in energy consumption made nuclear power much less necessary. More importantly, the reports are a response to the increased opposition of Japanese people to nuclear power.
Without admitting it directly, these reports show that the claims of nuclear power as the best or only way to cut emissions were never valid. Portrayals of nuclear energy as good for the environment can no longer be taken seriously.
In the past, these arguments enabled an unhealthy codependence between consumers and the nuclear power industry: We give you energy and you keep quiet about the dangers. The cleanup bill for the Fukushima disaster also shows that the real price of nuclear power is ruinously expensive.
If such reports had been promoted long ago, the government and the nuclear industry could have already initiated a safer, cleaner, long-range energy policy. Now it's up to consumers, government policymakers and industry to work together to reduce consumption. Consumers — individuals and businesses — showed last summer that with enough motivation, they can cut consumption. Saving energy this summer will be doubly positive — it will cut greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate nuclear power.