Sitting across from me in a brightly-lit restaurant last week, the city’s electric skyline blazing unapologetically behind him, a senior corporate executive wondered aloud whether there might have been some national good served had Tokyo, briefly, suffered a power blackout.
If the city had gone dark on March 22, instead of pulling together to reduce consumption after an earthquake triggered a power shortage, Japan would have been left in no doubt of its vulnerabilities in an unforgiving world that does not owe its third-biggest economy an energy supply.
Even in the dim glow of emergency candlelight, his argument continued, Japan would have clearly seen the combination of flawed domestic policies and geopolitical ructions as a prompt to rethink national energy security. With public support expanded through its brush with blackouts, and with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine giving a previously fraught debate greater urgency, Japan could begin to accelerate the restart of its huge fleet of nuclear power plants.
Should that happen, say senior advisers to the Japanese government on energy, the geopolitical impact could be significant. Reduce the dependence of the world’s second biggest importer on liquefied natural gas, allow the excess to flow elsewhere, and the dynamics of Russia’s energy stranglehold over Europe could, perhaps, begin to shift.
Nobody, it goes without saying, seriously sees any upside in a blackout. The question is whether the contortions needed to avoid one in March will leave a lasting impact on public attitudes and the political stance on nuclear power. On that morning, inhabitants of the world’s largest city had woken up to unseasonably chilly weather and warnings that, without a concerted public effort, the lights in millions of homes would go out by around teatime. By breakfast, we were scolding loved ones for using the toaster. By noon the shops were out of camping gas bottles.
Despite the long-term issues underpinning the crisis,…
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