Japan, ten years after Fukushima: how nuclear has changed in Asia

Japan, what happened in Fukushima ten years ago

March 11, 2011, 14.46 local time: the earth shakes off the northeastern coast of Japan. An earthquake of magnitude 8.9, with its epicenter in the sea, causes the waters to rise by more than ten meters, generating one of the worst tsunamis in history. The waves reach up to ten kilometers inland and with a devastating force they leave nothing behind: cities, villages and homes. Everything becomes mud and debris. The balance it is impressive: at least 19 thousand dead, more than 4 thousand missing, 130 thousand displaced and 332 thousand buildings destroyed. But that is not all. With a domino effect, the tsunami submerges the nuclear reactors of the Fukushima plant, and with the complicity of the cooling system failures, an explosion is generated that causes leaks of radioactive material. Chernobyl 1986, Fukushima 2011, the “core melt” reaches the same level, or seven: the top of the measurement scale. Too high a stage, which forces over 120,000 people to flee their homes.

Nuclear, the post-Fukushima impact on Japan and Asia

For a country lacking natural resources where, until before the explosion, nuclear power generated 30% of the electricity from its reactors, evaluating energy alternatives to the atom becomes a fundamental priority. So Tokyo, in the wake of the events, opens to the post-Fukushima phase, with a general weakening of nuclear power, which has led to the holding of only 9 reactors out of 54, an increase in supplies of natural gas, coal, oil and renewable sources. A radical change of course that has led Japan, in just ten years, as reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA), to “visible progress towards an efficient, resilient and sustainable energy system”.

But to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, announced by current Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide during his first political inauguration speech, there is still a long way to go. Also according to the IEA, at least in the short and medium term restarting the reactors could be the solution to accelerate towards the reduction of emissions and achieve the ambitious goal.

But if on the one hand the Japan brakes, the other big in East Asia, the China, runs. Between 2018 and 2019, according to IEA data, Beijing recorded a 50% increase in the capacity of installed nuclear plants, hosting 20% ​​of new production sites in the world. Furthermore, in 2020, even though the target of 58 GW of installed capacity was missed, the launch of the new target, set for 2025, rose to 70 GW. According to Brent Wanner, head of the World Energy Outlook Power Sector Modeling & Analysis at the International Energy Agency (IEA), China “will have the largest nuclear fleet in the world” within a decade.

On the other hand, the neighbor South Korea, although in 2019 according to data from the Energy International Administration it was the fifth largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, to date it aims at the decommissioning of ten reactors by 2038. Thus passing from 24 current to 14 future. In the same vein, the government of Taiwan, which in 2019 reaffirmed its willingness to abandon nuclear power. This decision, however, appears controversial, in light of the results of the 2018 referendum, in which the citizens expressed themselves in its favor.


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