Next week, Japan will experience its first nuclear-free day in 40 years. On 6 May every single nuclear power plant in the country will be offline. Sadly, this nuclear freeze may only last for a few days, as the government expects nation-wide restarts over the following weeks.
But with the popularity of nuclear power nosediving, the time to make smart investments in renewables is now. Plans are already in hand to build Japan’s largest solar power plant, and there has been an unprecedented push by companies to get green energy projects off the ground.
Following the Fukushima disaster, all but two of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors went offline. Now, if only for a few short days, the last remaining active reactor will also be taken off the grid. But the Japanese government is working hard to push forward the restart of some of the country's plants. They hope to restart two reactors in Oi town, Fukui prefecture, as soon as possible – though Fukui's governor has said the restart won't go ahead without consent from the prefectural assembly and the town's residents.
Why the rush?
There were fears that last year's reactor shutdowns would mean Japan struggled to meet its energy demands. But strikingly, daily life in Japan has been largely unaffected. So why the rush to restart?
Here's one guess. Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has just admitted it received 250m yen ($3m) from energy companies seeking permission to restart nuclear plants. It's not difficult to imagine how this might have influenced regulators. The operator of Oi's reactors, the partly state-owned Kepco, was one of the companies involved in this payment scheme, which raises serious questions about the validity of its recommendation to restart the Oi plant. Meanwhile the government in Tokyo is trying to muscle Fukui leaders into approving the restarts, apparently betting that this scandal will go away.
The future looks bright
More than 80% of the Japanese public favours the gradual phase-out of nuclear power, according to a recent poll by the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper. Earlier this year, a citizen's initiative gathered enough signatures to call for a referendum on ending nuclear power in Osaka and Tokyo. And the mayors of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto – cities that own major stakes in Kepco – have asked the company to produce a timetable for phasing out its nuclear business in favour of renewable and clean energy.
Meanwhile Kyocera Corp, IHI Corp and Mizuho Corporate Bank have already agreed to start building Japan’s biggest solar power project this July. The 25bn yen ($309m) project will have capacity to power 22,000 homes. And major cellphone operator Softbank Corp has proposed building at least 10 giant solar plants across the country. Now, solar power provides only 1% of Japan’s electricity, but the demand for green energy looks set to rise dramatically.
Take action: Let's take the fight for a nuclear-free Japan to a whole new level by supporting Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and his bold plan to get Kepco to phase out nuclear power. Sign Avaaz's petition.