Russia's military invasion of Ukraine has highlighted European energy status.
Russia is accounting for 12% of global oil production and 17% of global gas production. The effects of rising oil and gas prices have been felt in Japan, but Europe in particular is dependent on gas, oil, coal supplies from Russia, and wholesale energy prices have soared since the end of last year, when the Ukrainian crisis began to be discussed, and this has created a very serious situation.
Soaring fossil fuel prices are an energy security issue, and there is a need to reduce dependence on Russia and increase its independence. One of the arguments is investment in the development of fossil fuel resources within Europe, such as gas and oil exploitation in the North Sea. While this can reduce dependence on Russia, it merely postpones the problem by continuing to rely on fossil fuels and goes against the climate actions. It takes decades to develop in the first place, and cannot respond quickly to the current energy crisis.
Another idea is to accelerate investment in energy efficiency, electrification and renewables. This would rapidly reduce dependence on Russia and the use of gas, as well as climate action. There is an internal debate within the European Commission that the best solution for the future is to rapidly implement Europe's Fit for 55 targets, especially investment in renewables and energy efficiency, in order to increase the resilience of energy supplies, reduce dependence on gas imports and lower prices1. In other words, the crisis is moving in the direction of accelerated decarbonisation.
Yet the author believes that the Russian military invasion has once again exposed another important issue related to security and energy use. This is the issue of the vulnerability of nuclear technology in a contingency. This is a fundamental problem facing nuclear power beyond the unstable factors that have often been pointed out, such as its high cost as an energy source and long lead times.
Ukraine has 15 nuclear power reactors in addition to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Never before has there been such heavy fighting in an area where several nuclear power plants are operating in this way (this concern became a reality when the area around the plant was actually bombed after this manuscript was written).
The dangers of nuclear power plants in contingencies such as natural disasters or military action will never be fundamentally resolved. Eleven years ago, at the time of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, former Chancellor Merkel, a physicist, said: the nuclear accident and core meltdown was not caused by a tsunami, but it was caused by a total power failure (it could have happened by terrorism or missile attack).
In Japan, when it comes to resource scarcity, people stop thinking and there is no substantive discussion. It just continues to subsidise fossil fuels, whose prices are soaring. This is a perverse policy; as fossil fuels are hard to obtain, so we should secure more of them, which means we should be more dependent on them. Even for nuclear power, the simplistic thinking is that nuclear power is necessary for decarbonisation, without looking at environmental, social, economic, security factors other than ”carbon”.
Environmental measures and security are two sides of the same coin, and the way forward is the same. Renewables are now the cheapest form of energy and have transformed the geopolitics of energy. Not only Europe, but also the US and China have plans to meet the bulk of their supply from renewables. The path of the ‘energy-poor’ becoming the ‘energy-rich’ is widening before our eyes.
The Ukrainian crisis has distinctly shown that Japan should move away from fossil fuels and nuclear power.