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Japan Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2nd R), wearing protective suit and mask, is briefed about tanks containing radioactive water by Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant chief Akira Ono (2nd L), as they stand near a tank (C, with railings painted red and blue) which is being dismantled after leaking contaminated water, during his inspection tour to the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, in this file picture taken September 19, 2013. (REUTERS)  

Japan bucks environmentalists and goes nuclear … again

Three years have passed since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, and Japan is ready to once again ramp up its nuclear power sector in defiance of environmentalists who thought the country would turn to green energy.

Japanese government officials unveiled their plan to rely on a “balanced” energy mix of hydropower, nuclear power and coal as its base load power sources. The plan called “3E+S” recognizes the country’s growing reliance on coal power after it ditched nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

“It’s crucial to have diverse energy sources for a country like Japan, which relies on imports for all energy,” Akira Yasui, an official in charge of coal policy at the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry, told Bloomberg. “Our basic stance is to use coal while caring for the environment as much as possible. Coal is economical and stable in supply.”

The 2011 nuclear disaster was the biggest since Chernobyl in 1986 and forced Japan and many other countries to rethink their reliance on nuclear power.

Environmentalists at the time urged more nations to switch to green energy sources like wind and solar, but Japan didn’t bite. Instead, Japan increased its reliance on fossil fuels, from 62 percent of its electricity generation before Fukushima to 90 percent in 2012.

“You cannot exclude coal when you think about the best energy mix for Japan to keep energy costs stable,” said Naoya Domoto, president of energy and plant operations at IHI Corp., told Bloomberg. “One way to do that is to use coal efficiently.”

Japan’s announcement comes as Europe is struggling with soaring energy costs due to green energy subsidies. Green taxes and expensive power being dumped onto the electrical grid have posed huge problems for European households and businesses, especially in Germany which has some of the region’s highest power costs.

After Fukushima, Germany opted to scale back its reliance on nuclear power over fears of nuclear plant meltdowns. The only problem was that the country could not reach its climate goals in a cost-effective way without nukes, causing prices to surge even higher.

In the U.S., coal power is being phased out largely by federal environmental regulations. The Obama administration’s recent proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions has effectively banned the construction of coal-fired power plants unless they use carbon capture and storage technology.

The cold winter, however, extended the life of some U.S. coal plants slated for shut down, but the coal industry and utilities are warning that coal power may not be available to save the day next winter.

“This year’s historically cold winter has served as a crystal ball into our future, revealing the energy cost and electric reliability threats posed by the Obama Administration’s overreliance on a more narrow fuel source portfolio that excludes the use of coal,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Despite Japan’s turn to nuclear and coal power, environmentalists are still pushing for the country to go green instead.

“The energy plan failed to present the spirit of innovation,” the World Wildlife Fund Japan said in a statement. “Japan basically needs to recognize an increase in coal use is a serious issue for climate change. The country needs to push for reduction of carbon dioxide.”

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