Japan Looks to Big Increase in Renewables

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Marco Werman: Getting the entire Japanese economy back to full power maybe much more of a challenge following a big reversal there this week on energy policy. The world's environment editor Peter Thompson joins us now. Peter i understand that japans prime minister has pulled the plug on the countries plans to expand nuclear power.

Peter Thompson: That's right Marco, ever since the disaster at the Fukushima plant began two months ago today. Prime Minister Naoto Khan has stuck by Japans plan to build fourteen new nuclear reactors over the next twenty years. That would of given nuclear a fifty percent share of the country's electricity supply. But yesterday Khan had abruptly changed course and declared that his government would scrap the plan and as he put it start from scratch. Khan didn't provide a lot of details on what would replace that generating capacity. But he did say that the country will pour more of its efforts into what he called the dual pillars of renewable energy and energy conservation.

Werman: So does that mean Japan is putting the kibosh on nuclear altogether?

Thompson: No it certainly does not signal a complete repudiation of nuclear power. Khan does seem to have left the door open to still building some new plants and his own status is pretty uncertain since he is the fifth prime minister in five years. Also the nuclear industry is extremely powerful in Japan so there's no guarantee this new policy shift will stick. And any case Japans likely to be dependent on nuclear for a long time to come. Although Khan did admit that the country needs to put a much greater emphasis on the safety of its nuclear plants.

Werman: And give us a reality check here Peter is it really feasible that renewables and efficiency alone can become a sufficient part of Japans energy mix.

Thompson: Well that remains to be seen of course. The country has lagged behind other big players on renewables so far but it's ahead of much of the rest of the world when it comes to using energy efficiently. Of course globally Marco renewables are really taking off and a new report this week from the intergovernmental panel on climate change said that renewables could provide almost eighty percent of global energy demand by the middle of the century if governments implement the right policies. So turns out that one of the interesting things to come out of this terrible disaster in Japan is that the country could become a lab for those kinds of energy policies and technologies.

Werman: We will be watching the world's environment editor Peter Thompson thanks very much.

Thompson: Thanks Marco.

Werman: Peters also got a new blog post up on our website today on the latest science on natural gas fracking. A new report has found that fracking can contaminate groundwater with high levels of flammable methane. That's at the world.org/blogs.