Nuclear Power in Japan after the Fukushima Disaster

Jinglin Shan
May 19, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Favor in Nuclear Energy

Fig. 1: Two IAEA experts examine recovery work on top of Unit 4 of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013 as part of a mission to review Japan's plans to decommission the facility. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Japan has transformed itself over the post-war period to a nation that has one of the largest civilian nuclear programs in the world. [1] Japan has a strong historical commitment to nuclear program because of its lack of domestic fossil fuel resources, which has resulted in a heavy dependency on imported and costly oil, natural gas and coal. [2] Japanese leaders therefore argue that Japan would be too weak without recourse to an independent energy supply. [3]

The successful development of its own nuclear industry has benefited Japan in many ways. First of all, the nuclear energy can be produced at a stable price compared to energy produced by oil. There were times when uranium prices soared during the oil crisis in the 1970s, but uranium fuel cost account for less than 10 percent of total nuclear power generation cost. Thus the cost of producing electricity with the nuclear power reactors does not significantly fluctuate with the cost uranium prices. cheaper than any other energy resources. As the nuclear power reactors operate, they produce electricity cheaper than any other resources, because their operations and maintenance costs are the lowest. [4]

Furthermore, nuclear energy adds to energy diversification and reduces dependency on oil, because nuclear energy can be domestically produced. [5] It is also clean that Japan perceive it as one of the few options to help countries meet base load electricity demand with virtually no GHG (green house gas) emissions. [2]

Nuclear power has played an important role prior to the Fukushima disaster. The Fukushima disaster, nevertheless, has challenged the energy policy that strongly favors nuclear power.

Aftermath of Fukushima Disaster

The tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, primarily the level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex and the associated evacuation zones (Fig. 1). Residents within a 20 kilometers radius of the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant were evacuated. [6] As an immediate effect of the disaster on energy supplies, 4.4 million households served by Tohoku Electric Power in northeastern Japan were left without electricity. [7]

Between the 2011 earthquake and May 2012, Japan lost all of its nuclear capacity. To make up the difference that these nuclear stations used to provide 25-30 percent of Japan's Fukushima disaster, utilities have been forced to rely more on oil- and gas-fired power plants. [8] The aftermath of the disaster urges Japan to scrutinize its energy policy and security. Under the new laws passed in March 2012, regulatory standards and criteria for nuclear facilities were revised to become stricter and accident management is required by law. For example, a certain period of operational extension could be approved on a onetime-only basis, and nuclear operators take responsibility for constantly improving the safety of their facilities under the new regulation. [9,10]

Public Opposition to Nuclear Power

Since the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power became the subject of enormous public interest. The result of a research on change in public opinion on nuclear power shows a significant increase in the supporters of "reduce and decommission" of nuclear power, from 17 percent in Dec 2005 to 66.1 percent in Jun 2011. [11]

Public opposition to nuclear energy is, however, not a new phenomenon in Japan. Historical data on Japanese public opinion towards nuclear energy indicates that opinion has been quick to return from opposition to a state of general ambivalence after past incidents. Thus the minimum focus on nuclear issues in the Japanese media through 2012 to 2013 can be interpreted as the government's effort to silence the nuclear power debate. In addition, the Japanese government has utilized exclusive reporters' clubs to make sure that media coverage reflects government policy. [2]

© Jinglin Shan. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S.H. Lesbirel, "Markets, Transaction Costs and Institutions: Compensating for Nuclear Risk in Japan," Aust. J. Polit. Sci. 38, 5 (2003).

[2] V. Vivoda, Energy Security in Japan: Challenges After Fukushima (Routledge, 2014).

[3] R. J. Samuels, Rich Nation, Strong Army (Cornell University Press, 1996).

[4] T. Nakata, "Analysis of the Impacts of Nuclear Phase-Out on Energy Systems in Japan," Energy, 27, 363 (2002).

[5] S.H. Lesbirel, "Diversification and Energy Security Risks: the Japanese case," Jpn. J. Polit. Sci. 5, No. 1, 1 (2004).

[6] V. Kim, "Japan Damage Could Reach $235 Billion, World Bank Estimates," Los Angeles Times, 21 Mar 11.

[7] "Millions of Stricken Japanese Lack Water, Food, Heat," NPR, 14 Mar 11.

[8] "Monthly Electricity Statistics, January 2018," International Energy Agency, January 2018

[9] "New Regulatory Requirements for Light-Water Nuclear Power Plants," Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Japan, August 2013.

[10] "Strengthening of Japan's Nuclear Security Measures," Japan Atomic Energy Commission, March 2012.

[11] K. Takahashi and M. Masaki, "How Japanese Changed After the Great East Japan Earthquake: From a Public Opinion Survey on Disaster Prevention, Energy and Basic Sense of Values", NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, April 2013.