Energy Prices Ignite Nuclear Power Debate in Europe As Japan Praises It

Japan's prime minister has spoken out in favor of returning to nuclear power in the country following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.

Fumio Kishida formally took office as Japan's prime minister only last week. Speaking at a parliamentary session on Monday, he said, according to Reuters: "It's crucial that we restart nuclear power plants."

Kishida has previously spoken out about his pro-nuclear stance, describing renewable energy as "important" but stressing that he believed in the importance of nuclear as another option.

Nuclear power has become a controversial topic in Japan ever since the country's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered one of the worst nuclear accidents in history 10 years ago, after it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

It prompted the evacuation of over 100,000 people due to concerns over radiation leakage.

While the disaster was eventually contained and the plant shut down by December that same year, there are still concerns over the more than one million tons of wastewater, used to help cool the plant and prevent further damage, that remains in storage.

Public trust in nuclear power fell and Japan shut down almost all of its 50 operational reactors following the events of March 2011. Only nine have resumed operation, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

For Kishida, this dormant nuclear power capability could help Japan on its route to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Japan isn't the only country facing tough decisions over nuclear power. Europe, too, is currently divided into pro- and anti-nuclear factions.

With the continent currently in the grips of an energy crisis and households facing steeper bills, 10 EU countries recently sent a letter to the European Commission calling for the recognition of nuclear power as a low-carbon energy source.

Led by France—a nation which produces around 70 percent of its power through nuclear energy—the nations called nuclear energy a "key affordable, stable, and independent energy source," according to EuroNews, which has seen a copy of the letter.

The letter continues: "The rise of energy prices have also shown how important it is to reduce our energy dependence on third countries as fast as possible."

But not all of Europe is pro-nuclear. Earlier this year, Germany led four other prominent EU member states, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Spain, in damning nuclear power as a "high-risk technology" compared to renewable alternatives like wind and solar.

They added: "After more than 60 years of using nuclear power, not one single fuel element has been permanently disposed of anywhere in the world.

"The recent commemorations to mark the anniversaries of the nuclear catastrophes in Fukushima and Chernobyl provided a strong reminder of the dangers of nuclear technology."

Nuclear power plants don't directly produce CO2 emissions, nor air pollution, while operating. Instead, the environmental concerns focus on what to do with spent nuclear reactor fuel.

Fumio Kishida
Japan's new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, speaking at a news conference on October 4 in Tokyo, Japan. Kishida has spoken out in favor of nuclear power. Toru Hanai/Pool / Getty