It is very nice to share a position with 71% of the population when your own government's popularity is hovering at the inglorious level of 17%. Naoto Kan Japan's Prime Minister, has now announced that he would like to free his country from its dependence on nuclear power.
The recent disaster in Japan, including the secrecy that originally surrounded it, has soured Japanese opinion on nuclear power. It accounts for the popularity of the proposal to jettison nuclear power.
Kan has been criticized by the Japanese power triangle of businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians for becoming an avid anti-nuclear campaigner. Japan's pro-business Yomiuri Shimbun published an editorial entitled " Kan's Recklessness Could Harm World's Trust in Japan".
The journal noted that Japan is the world's third leading exporter of nuclear power facilities and one does not toss away such an export industry cavalierly. Japan has also put a great deal of effort in pushing exports of its nuclear industry, claiming that nuclear power offered the best immediate hope for reducing global warming.
According to the paper, contracts with Asian countries were imminent. As late as May, Kan himself had claimed that Japan, by assimilating the lessons of the accident at the Fukushima plants, would achieve the world's "highest level" of nuclear power safety.
If Kan was toying with the idea of emulating Germany, he forgot that Germany could make up for the shortfall caused by the closing of its nuclear plants by importing power from its neighbors, including power generated by nuclear reactors in France. Japan as an island nation cannot count on a similar replacement for the lost energy.
As if to underline the points made in the editorial, the Japanese government has requested people and businesses in Western Japan to conserve electricity this summer. Western Japan was an area relatively unaffected by the disasters. Some Japanese companies even moved their production centers and office services to Western Japan.
Japan would face difficulties even if it ran a crash program to replace nuclear energy with renewable solar and wind power. First of all, the weather in Japan is unstable. One cannot count on a regular supply of solar and wind power. Secondly, Japan's electrical system is not uniform.
While Osaka and other parts of Japan have adopted the US 60 Hz electricity standard, Tokyo and its environs have embraced the German 50 Hz standard, so that electricity must be converted from one standard to the other. This is another mega infrastructure investment that Japan will have to make.Critics doubt that one can phase out nuclear power and have the substitutes ready to take its place on time.