By Tomoko Kunimitsu
On 10th March, ‘The 4th Revolution Summit’ was held in Japan. It was an event which aimed to accelerate the shift to renewable energy in Japan, held on the day before the 2-year anniversary of the disastrous earthquake and the ensuing accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The name of the summit was inspired by a German film named The 4th Revolution – Energy Autonomy.
A number of activities to support this transformation in the energy system have been taking place in this country, both locally and nationally over these 2 years. On a local level, the film, which suggests that renewable energy is the sustainable energy source which could kick-start the ‘green’ revolution, has been shown in 35 out of 47 prefectures in Japan. Many of the screenings were held by voluntary citizens and NGOs. Also, more and more citizens have organised/participated in demonstrations to protest nuclear power in many parts of Japan. Japanese people are becoming to know that we are a part of the change for our future.
At the national level, the government introduced the new feed-in-tariff system in July 2012 in order to increase an incentive for setting power-generating facilities for renewable energy. Some private firms, such as Softbank, have already started focusing on this area to taking advantage of the potential opportunity. As a result, these various forms of interests in renewable energy – from citizens, firms, and the government – led to Japan’s increased capacity to produce renewable energy, adding 1,178 megawatts in just 9 months, from April to December last year.
On the other hand, the shift from nuclear power to renewable energy may be a challenge to the huge investment in the past. More than 50 nuclear power plants have been operating in Japan are a result of investments made since 1960s. The investors range from the government and large firms to ordinary citizens. Many rural areas which are home to these nuclear power plants rely hugely on the industry which has stimulated the regional economy by receiving subsidies and creating jobs.
In fact, when Japan stopped all the nuclear power plants after the meltdown in Fukushima, some people living in the very core area of one nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture allowed its reopening as the regional economy needed plant-related jobs. One citizen said, “we had allowed ourselves to become addicted to nuclear money, until Fukushima broke the spell”. It was a very different reaction from the demonstration which took place to oppose the reopening. The government’s decisions also reflect this difficulty. While drawing up incentives for renewable energy, it also decided to review plans to abandon nuclear power, made by the previous administration. These contrasting events show not only how seriously the investment of the past affects the future even decades later, but also that we didn’t have alternative options that could reduce the dependency.
The green transformation seems to be more than a shift in energy system and a tool of economic growth – it is a development issue in Japan. Japan is struggling to find a direction to go. The current situation mentioned has been described as ‘Japan’s “nuclear mafia” vs. a “communist” renewables policy’. The process of green transformation is challenging the established socio-economic structure and perhaps, unfairness behind that: who produces energy for whom? How should the rural economy be maintained? How can the whole Japanese society reduce the over-dependence on one big investment continuing from the past? In both top-down and bottom-up approaches to expand renewable energy, everyone should illustrate a broad image of development of this country – what we will pass on to the next generation.
Tomoko Kunimitsu is working towards her MA Globalisation and Development at the Institute of Development Studies.