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Can Japan Phase Out Nuclear Power?

The country wants to go nuclear-free, but many obstacles remain

3 min read
Man in Japan protesting nuclear power
Photo: Rie Ishii/AFP/Getty Images

Before the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident of 2011, Japan was the third largest producer of nuclear power in the world. Its 54 reactors had a capacity of about 50 gigawatts. Now the Japanese government is contemplating whether it can scale down from 50 GW to zero by 2040 without crippling its economy in the process. 

A government policy paper [PDF] released in September called for the elimination of all nuclear power by 2040, and public opinion polls have shown that the majority of citizens favor a phaseout. But the matter is far from settled: The policy paper elicited strong protests from business groups, and consequently the Cabinet, the executive branch of Japan’s government, declined to endorse the zero-nuclear goal.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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