The Return of the Japanese Nuclear Industry
Kept idle for a decade after the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s nuclear plants are slowly coming back online. Both economic and military rationales won out against safety concerns.
By installed electrical capacity, Japan has the fourth-largest civil nuclear reactor fleet after the U.S., France, and China, larger even than Russia’s.1 But by actual electricity generated, in 2021 it was below even Germany, which has since deliberately shut down all of its nuclear plants.2 Japan has had a uniquely idle nuclear fleet since an unprecedented earthquake and resulting tsunami in 2011 caused a reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Japan shut down all nuclear power in the aftermath of the disaster. But instead of becoming a permanent phase-out like in Germany, Japan has slowly restarted its nuclear reactors and is now building two new ones. Japan is still the world’s third-largest economy in nominal terms after the U.S. and China.3 Reviving its nuclear industry will not only prolong its economic relevance in the face of an aging population, but will also maintain Japan’s open secret of a stockpile of unassembled nuclear weapons.