Foreign Policy Blogs

Japan and energy

Officials are still struggling to restore power at the Fukushima nuclear power plant 11 days after the worst earthquake in Japanese history and subsequent tsunami triggered an automatic shut down at the plant and destroyed backup generators, which caused a partial meltdown. As of this writing, an estimated 18,400 people have died in the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami. Restoring power to the Fukushima complex is crucial to help deliver cooling water to the overheated reactor cores and spent fuel pools that are leaking radiation.

Since the nuclear crisis began, many outside observers have been questioning why the earthquake-prone country has built so many nuclear reactors. Japan consumes a lot of energy in its production of cars and consumer electronics, and yet, the country still imports most of its energy. Japan has few natural resources, and imports 100 percent of its oil. Before it began producing energy at home using nuclear power plants, Japan was dependent on other countries for almost all of its energy.

This dependence became an Achilles’ heel for Japan leading up to World War II. After the fall of the Netherlands in Indonesia and France in Indochina, Japan was concerned about agreements with French Indochina, which supplied tin, rubber and other raw materials, and the Netherlands East Indies, which supplied oil. After Japan invaded China and then Indochina, the U.S., not agreeing with Japan’s military conquests and concerned its interests in the region were being jeopardized, cut off oil shipments to Japan and bought up oil from the Netherlands East Indies so Japan couldn’t have it. Being pushed up against a wall by the U.S., Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

After the war, the Japanese realized they could not rely on foreign powers for energy. One path to energy independence for a country with no oil was to produce nuclear power. It’s no coincidence that the acceleration of the construction of Japan’s nuclear reactors coincided with the Arab Oil Embargo. Japan now has a nuclear megawatt capacity of 47,348, third only behind the U.S. (101,229 megawatts) and France (63,236 megawatts). Nuclear energy accounts for 28.9 percent of Japan’s electricity production–compared to 20.2 percent in the U.S. (France is the only country that uses nuclear power as its primary source of electricity, accounting for 75.2 percent of production.)

Until the rolling blackouts affecting much of the Kanto region began, the Japanese seemed to take their energy for granted. Someone who has never left Tokyo has probably never seen a star in his or her life due to the city’s distinctive light pollution. Restaurants and clubs squished right next to one another and stacked on top of each other all have flashing neon signs competing for attention. Even small ramen stands in the countryside seem to need a flashing sign with a Mars light to stand out from its surroundings. Lines of taxis on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka sit with their engines running while their drivers take naps. Given Japan’s paucity of domestically produced energy and dependence on foreign energy, I find the levels of energy the Japanese waste on a daily basis ironic.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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