I meet quite a few Japanese people who actually say to me, “Japan is such a scary place these days. Why haven’t you returned to America?”
“Scary?” I say. “I find Japan to be very safe.” It definitely feels safe compared to America.
Of course, many Japanese feel that Japan is becoming less safe, but in general, most Japanese seem to feel that it’s safer than America. America, after all, is the place where according to Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara, there can’t be lots of soda machines. “People would loot them,” he explained once. “That’s why Japan went crazy with all the soda machines.”
But I digress. On everyone's mind these days is radiation.
Heck, I was born only two hours from Three Mile Island. I was just a kid then, but I remember how scared everyone one was. Yet, I’m alive.
I know it may seem like a type of scientific ignorance, but things I can’t feel, smell or touch don’t scary me personally as much as they should. I know they should freak me out, and I know that scientifically they exist, but for God's sake, you can’t go through life being scared of each and every little thing. Prioritize your worries. My biggest worry is getting hit by a truck while I tweet and bike on my power-assisted “mama chari.” Sometimes I eat "tebasaki" (grilled chicken wings) ... the bones; you get one stuck in your throat, it’ll do you in.
Of course, nuclear radiation is real. There’s nothing funny about it; there’s nothing funny about the young kids who have to get their thyroids checked the rest of their lives, and the farmers who’ve lost their entire career and livelihoods and communities destroyed perhaps forever.
Because of this, some people say we should abandon nuclear energy. The argument is that even if it is safe most of the time (which arguably it pretty much is), look at the disproportional devastation from one accident. This is undeniably true and it makes evident the fact that nuclear energy is no long-term solution for our need to stay lit up. And neither is oil nor coal.
A key point to understand is that abandoning one form of energy, which is unsafe in our backyard merely to import energies which poison other people in their own backyards or economically support and enable brutal regimes, is superficial eco/human consciousness. Japan, for example, imports a great deal of its fossil fuels from brutal Mideast regimes. (Iran is Japan’s third largest supplier of oil.)
Key factors shaping Japanese energy policy
Considering this, it is obvious that Japan needs to rethink how it stays powered up. Likewise, it's important to understand a key energy policy factor: Japan’s energy self-sufficiency ratio is only 20%, or 4% if uranium is considered an import. Japan takes this so seriously, it maintains a strategic 2-3 year energy reserve.
To deal with this problem, Japan’s key strategy is diversity: Accidents, wars, embargoes – any global instability (even competition) can make energy dependent Japan vulnerable. The current generation of Japanese political leadership are of the generation that all too well remember the oil shock of the ‘70s. That generation will never forget it and it was one of the factors that led to an increasing acceptance of nuclear energy (that and years of public manipulation.)
Taking all of this into account, Japan’s energy policy has been based on three key dynamics: economic growth, energy security and environmental protection. Energy source diversification has been the key to its implementation; however, while diversification offers a short term solution, there’s no doubt that the attainment of feasible cost-effective homegrown green energy would be ideal in helping Japan to meet its already established energy policy goals. For this reason, Japanese power companies, TEPCO included, have been experimenting with alternative energy technologies for many years, even well prior to 3/11.
One example is JAXA’s (Japan’s version of NASA) Space Powered Solar System (SSPS) which would capture solar rays in space and transport the energy to the ground and with a single unit generating enough energy to power up 500,000 homes. According to JAXA, it is aiming for practical use in the 2030s
Then there’s solar energy. According to the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association, the trade group that promotes Japanese solar energy, solar technologies are also under development, but practical implementation requires research into measures to deal with voltage & frequency fluctuations caused by PV power systems grid connections. Mikio Katayama, chairman of the JPEA, also envisions the year 2030 as a key target.
There is wind, too, but Klean Industries, an American company that works closely with Japanese companies and actively develops green technologies, points out a number of obstacles that might not make wind farm technology so practical for Japan. For example, typhoons, lightning and storms are commonplace, the water surrounding Japan is of too great a depth for off-shore wind-power generation technology, and locations that provide optimal wind generations are usually located in mountainous terrains, making the land formations in those areas difficult to plot. Despite this, the Japanese Wind Energy Association also has plans for the development of one possible solution: floating wind farms.
In conclusion, the transition from dirty, dangerous and politically messy technologies is a vision of the future that Japan has no choice but to move toward. However, to do so, it will have to transcend a mere short term set back to a very large industry. The nuclear power industry survived Chernobyl, it survived Three Mile Island and I’m sure it’ll survive Fukushima. On the other hand, if people show patience, perseverance, and interest in as well as demand for the new technologies, their attainment is possible. Public will, however, will have to persist.© Japan Today