The return of the fossil-fueled economy: Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions could rise by as much as 16 percent by 2013 from 1990 levels
The half-century-old, oil-fueled power generators here had been idle for more than a year when, a day after the nuclear accident in March, orders came from Tokyo Electric Power headquarters to fire them up.
“They asked me how long it would take,” said Masatake Koseki, head of the Yokosuka plant, which is 40 miles south of Tokyo and run by Tokyo Electric. “The facilities are old, so I told them six months. But they said, ‘No, you must ready them by summer to prepare for an energy shortage.’ ”
Now, at summer’s peak, Yokosuka’s two fuel-oil and two gas turbines are cranking out a total of 900,000 kilowatts of electricity — and an abundance of fumes.
The generators are helping to replace the 400 million kilowatt-hours of daily electricity production lost this summer because of the shutdown of all but 15 of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Across the country, dozens of other fossil-fuel plants have been fired up, and Japan is importing billions of dollars worth of liquefied natural gas, coal and oil to keep them running.
Japan, the world’s third-largest user of electricity behind China and the United States, had counted on an expansion of nuclear power to contain energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, its nuclear program is in retreat, as the public and government officials urge a sharp reduction in the nation’s reliance on nuclear power and perhaps an end to it altogether.
As its nuclear program implodes, Japan is grappling with a jump in fuel costs, making an economic recovery from the March earthquake and tsunami all the more difficult. Annual fuel expenses could rise by more than 3 trillion yen, or about $39 billion, the government says.
The country, until recently a vocal proponent of measures to curb climate change, is also leaving a bigger carbon footprint. According to government calculations, Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions could rise by as much as 210 million metric tons, or 16 percent, by 2013 from 1990 levels if its nuclear reactors were shut permanently. Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, Japan promised to reduce its emissions by 6 percent over that period.