Two years ago, Japan was rocked by a massive earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people and triggered an energy crisis that continues to send ripples to Hawaii and beyond.

As part of a fellowship to look at the post Fukushima energy debate I traveled in December for a 10-day reporting trip to Japan. I produced several reports for Civil Beat, creating a Japan Journal. A story I produced for the joint BBC and Public Radio International program The World aired internationally on Monday. You can listen here.

The tsunami and earthquake caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant. We are reminded of that terrible day when tsunami debris washes ashore here in Hawaii. We are also still paying the economic consequences in higher energy costs.

Japan’s 52 nuclear reactors were taken off line following the world’s second most grievous nuclear accident (after Chernobyl).  All but two remain in cold shutdown.  As Japan scrambled to replace all that lost energy production it gobbled up oil to fire up generators similar to those we have here in Hawaii. The price for the low-sulfur oil that powers those generators has spiked, and has stayed high.  So every time we fill up at the pump, or pay an electric bill with the nation’s highest electricity rates, we are are in part paying for Fukushima.  

All that is to say that when it comes to the implications here in Hawaii, the debate that Japan is embroiled in about its energy future is more than just academic. Here are a few connections:

If nuclear plants are permanently mothballed, Hawaii’s oil prices, at least in the short run, will likely stay sky high, further motivating the push toward liquefied natural gas (LNG).

If Japan’s clean energy advocates win the day and the industrial giant can make significant gains in renewables, Hawaii will benefit from increased research and development. We likely will see more joint projects like a $37 million research project on Maui aimed at increasing the amount of solar and wind energy electric grids can integrate.

And if Japan returns to nuclear power as the new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is inclined to do, Hawaii should get some economic relief. But if there is another nuclear disaster, the resulting hit to the Japanese economy would tumble Japan into a major recession and Hawaii would likely say sayonara to thousands of Japanese tourists. 

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