Japan’s nuclear power fleet has sat idle since a powerful earthquake struck the nation in March 2011, driving a sharp increase in fossil fuel imports and a spike in the nation’s carbon intensity.
By Mark Caine and Jesse Jenkins
Japan’s nuclear power fleet has sat idle since a powerful earthquake struck the nation in March 2011, driving a sharp increase in fossil fuel imports and a spike in the nation’s carbon intensity, new data shows. Together, these changes have battered Japan’s trade balance, increased the carbon intensity of its energy supply, and raised important questions about its future CO2 emissions trajectory.
Japan’s 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster have exerted substantial impacts on the nation’s economy and energy system. Given Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, its lack of domestic fossil resources, the magnitude of the earthquake and tsunami, and the technical and political implications of a major nuclear crisis, these impacts were largely predictable.
But although it was clear early on that Japan’s triple disaster signalled major economic and technical changes in Japan, only recently has good data become available to shed light on the specifics of the changes underway.*
Two notable trends emerge from this data, both relating to Japanese energy supply. Together, these trends are exerting profound impacts on Japan’s trade balance, the carbon intensity of its energy supply, and its future CO2 emission trajectory.
Carbon Intensity Spikes as Nuclear Plants Idle
First, the carbon intensity of Japan’s energy mix has spiked following the shut-down of most of the nation’s nuclear power fleet, which previously provided about 30 percent of the nation’s electricity and anchored the nation’s low-carbon energy plans. Currently, just 4 of the nation’s 50 remaining nuclear reactors are online. To replace this lost generation, Japanese utilities have ramped up imports and use of coal, oil, and natural gas, while industrial consumers have been more reliant on diesel generators to guarantee reliable energy supply.