The July 16th earthquake that hit Japan's Niigata prefecture has left the country shaken: sesimically, politically, economically. There are elections for the nation's upper house on July 29.
The government has shut down that nuclear plant for the time being. To re-open at some uncertain date. Even less consoling for Japan, apparently the plant was built unknowingly on an active earthquake fault. That just increases the uncertainty around the nuclear plant.
All this comes not just at a sensitive time for Japanese politics. It's a sensitive time for the nuclear industry. It seemed as if there was some steam building up behind moves to build more nuclear plants. Reduce greenhouse gases, help reduce use of fossil fuels, fight global warming. Nuclear energy billed as a green technology. The argument was getting some political traction even among environmentalists. In a short time the Japanese plant may re-open and the quake be forgotten. That's what nuclear proponents are hoping.
Nuclear could be the quickest way to make some headway in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. continues to increase its emissions every year. Currently the U.S. gets just over eight percent of its total energy from nuclear plants. All of that's in the form of electricity.
Meanwhile China now leads the U.S. in CO2 output and is heavily dependent on coal-burning. There's another place with lots of earthquake faults. Neither China nor the U.S. signed on to the international Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, the European Union, which did sign up to Kyoto, reports another annual drop for 2005. It's only .8% less greenhouse gases than in 2004, but it's another annual reduction. EU member, France, has nearly five dozen nuclear power plants and gets more than three-fourths of its electricity from them. The issue around disposal of nuclear waste remains a live issue, even in France.
The nuclear story: to be continued.