A newly released study from the Breakthrough Institute shows a clear indication on how dependent Japan has been on nuclear power. First the good news: after the devastating earthquake and resulting destruction of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan last year the nation reduced its energy consumption by 9.8%. Unfortunately, the reduction in energy is not enough to offset the environmental impact of replacing nuclear energy with carbon-intensive fuels.  From a glass-half-empty perspective, it looks like reducing energy consumption is not a magic bullet as CO2 levels rose 15%. But we are glass-half-full types here at Inhabitat – and the numbers are a clear indicator that the faster Japan transitions to clean, renewable power sources, the better off they (and all of us) will be.

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Only 4 of the 50 nuclear plants on the island nation are still in operation, and Japan has made a major switch to natural gas, coal, and diesel to fill the gap. The study goes into some detail about how the reductions in demand for energy occurred, but shows the clear trends in CO2 emissions from using tradition fuel sources. They suggest that Japan should either bring those reactors online after thorough inspections, or ramp up renewable energy production by a factor of 49 times to meet the targets set in the Kyoto Accord. The options, in other words, don’t look good.

The study is really based on very short-term trends for a nation hit very hard and struggling to recover, but from our perspective the long-term view of Japan’s energy future are not nearly as bleak. First is the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency – over 50% of Japan’s electricity is used to operate buildings, and the ethos of energy conservation is a relatively new consideration in building design, especially for Japanese residential housing. Second, Japan is one of the most capable nations on the planet for adopting and scaling new technologies. With a sharp focus on renewable energy and storage, Japan could become a leader in smart grid adaptation to ensure energy security. The move really depends on leadership bold enough to take this lesson to heart and a bureaucracy that departs from business as usual.

study from the +Breakthrough Institute

Via New York Times