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Did Japan's Nuclear Catastrophe Pave the Way for Renewable Energy Development?

Nuclear PowerJust a few short months ago, a massive earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc on the nation of Japan. In addition to the lives lost, and homes and businesses that were destroyed, the disaster triggered a nuclear meltdown of the country's Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In the days and weeks after the initial earthquake, the Fukushima plant leaked radioactive wastewater into the countryside, contaminating both sea and tap water, as well as exports like milk and produce.
It's hard to imagine how a nuclear disaster said to rival Chernobyl could possibly have a bright side, but as Japan struggles to contain and clean up the mess, almost every other nuclear nation is reconsidering its choice to pursue this risky source of energy.

Switzerland & Germany Abandon Nuclear Pursuits

Just last week, Switzerland voted to abandon the pursuit of nuclear energy. EcoLocalizer's Rhonda Winter reported that, "the nation's five remaining nuclear power plants will slowly be phased out, and no new reactors will be built. The government had already suspended approval for three new nuclear power stations in March, due to safety concerns."

In a similar move, it was recently announced that Germany too would drop out of the nuclear race. According to GreenBiz.com, "Chancellor Angela Merkel has committed to shutting down all of Germany's nuclear reactors by 2022, after closing eight plants for safety inspections in March at the start of Japan's Fukushima disaster."

Instead of nuclear power, the country has committed to the construction of a renewable energy superhighway that will connect Germany's growing wind energy supply with high energy demand regions.

With the exact timeframe for clean-up uncertain, the Japanese government is also feeling the pressure to assure its citizens that the country's nuclear power plants are safe. The government ordered a safety review of all 54 of the country's nuclear reactors, and advised the Chubu Electric Power Co. to close three of its coastal plants until it could be determined that they would be able to withstand another earthquake.

Geothermal Energy an Option for Japan

Still, some experts say that it would be better for Japan to pursue a safer, more abundant form of energy that won't contaminate the food and water supply in the event of a natural disaster-like geothermal.
Japan currently ranks eighth in the world for installed geothermal capacity with about 540 MW already producing power and third for untapped potential, according to the 2010 Geothermal Congress at Bali, Indonesia. Where resources are abundant and accessible, as is the case in Japan, geothermal power is already an energy bargain, usually less expensive than electricity generated by coal and nuclear plants.

Currently, Japan is home to 18 geothermal power plants, eight of which are located in the Sendai region, which was severely affected by the quake and tsunami. Despite their close proximity, media reports say only four of the plants experienced any interruption in operation during the tsunami, and it was quickly rectified.

Did the Fukushima nuclear disaster signal the beginning of the end of global nuclear power? Share your opinion in a comment.

Beth Buczynski is a freelance copy writer and environmental blogger. She holds a Master's in Public Communication and Technology with specialization in Environmental Communication from Colorado State University, and is passionate about leaving this planet in better shape than she found it.

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