Japan Energy and Environment Facts

Natural resources and energy

The Japanese industry is almost entirely dependent on imports of raw materials and fuels. The country has many minerals but only in small quantities. Japan is therefore forced to import almost all iron ore, bauxite (which provides aluminum) and copper ore. Japan also imports a lot of oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

In order to both reduce oil dependency and meet the Kyoto Treaty’s demand for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, Japan has invested in nuclear power with the goal of becoming fully self-sufficient with energy. In 2008, the nuclear power industry had 55 reactors in operation. Japan’s nuclear power plant accounted for nearly a third of electricity generation at the beginning of the 2010s.

  • COUNTRYAAH: Major exports by Japan with a full list of the top products exported by the country. Includes trade value in U.S. dollars and the percentage for each product category.

But after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, energy policy was changed. The powerful earthquake and the accompanying tsunami caused serious damage to four of the six reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. After a few months, all 50 undamaged nuclear reactors that were in use were closed for safety review.

In order to meet its electricity supply, Japan was forced to import large quantities of natural gas and coal, which led to increased greenhouse gas emissions as well as rising expenditure on imports.

After the tsunami disaster, political disagreement arose over the use of nuclear power. Prime Minister Abe and many within the LDP wanted to start using nuclear power again a few years into the 2010s, but they seemed to have the opinion against it.

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Statistics from 2012 showed that nuclear power then accounted for just under 2 percent of electricity production, while the rest came mainly from natural gas (38 percent), coal (29 percent), oil (18 percent), hydropower (8 percent) and just over 1 percent from solar power, wind power and geothermal energy (geothermal heat).

Several previous accidents from the 1990s have also led to popular resistance to nuclear power. In 1999, over 400 people were exposed to leaking radioactivity from a Tokaimura reprocessing plant 14 miles from Tokyo.

In 2001, the inhabitants of a village at the world’s largest nuclear power plant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture voted no to the use of reprocessed so-called MOX fuel (mixture of plutonium and uranium) in the plant. The result was not binding but still negative for the government, which wanted to invest in MOX as the energy source of the future.

In 2004, Japan suffered yet another severe nuclear accident. Five workers were scalded to death when a pipeline of boiling water burst at Mihama’s nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture in western Japan. The accident was due to poor maintenance and the power company emphasized that no radioactivity had leaked. However, the fact that many nuclear power plants are located in seismically sensitive areas with a risk of earthquakes complicates the matter.

In order to reduce coal and oil consumption, the government wants to increase energy savings, as well as invest in other energy sources such as solar energy, wind power, biomass and geothermal energy. Such alternatives still account for a relatively small part of the total energy supply, but they are growing rapidly.

A reverse of Japan’s rapid development (see Industry) has been severe environmental problems as a result of population pressure, land scarcity and an economic philosophy that put export success on top of everything. Most famous is the environmental disaster in Minamata, where mercury from a local industry in the 1950s and 1960s poisoned the water and caused illnesses, malformations and hundreds of deaths.

When the problems began to be noticed, a special environmental protection authority was set up in 1971 to clean up after past neglect and prevent new pollution.

In 2009, the government sharpened its climate target – instead of aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent before 2020, compared with the 1990 level, a reduction of 25 percent was promised. But in 2013, the government lowered its ambitions. A new target was set to reduce emission levels by 3.8 percent from 2005 to 2020.


Energy use per person

3,433 kilograms of oil equivalent (2015)

Electricity consumption per person

7829 kWh, kWh (2014)

Carbon dioxide emissions in total

1 214 048 thousand tonnes (2014)

Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant

9.5 tonnes (2014)

The share of energy from renewable sources

6.3 percent (2015)



Continued support for Abe

Abe’s government coalition continues to receive support from the voters in the elections to the lower house on December 14. LDP wins 290 seats and Komeito 35. DPJ goes ahead with 11 seats. The turnout is record low, only 52 percent.


Futenma-critical candidate is selected

In the governor’s election on Okinawa, a candidate who is negative to keep the US air base Futenma on the archipelago wins.

The economy is shrinking

New economic statistics show that the Japanese economy continued to shrink with negative growth during the period July to September. The VAT increase from April is considered to be one of the reasons for the recession.

Abe and Jinping meet

During the ongoing meeting with Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) in Beijing, Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet for the first time in over two years. A few days earlier, both countries had announced that they would hold talks on the disputed islands of Diaoyu / Senkaku and also openly admitted that there were differing positions on the islands. A decision had also been made to create a special crisis mechanism to prevent the aggravation of the conflict.


Female ministers resign

Two of the government’s seven female ministers resign. Justice Minister Midori Matsushima leaves the government after receiving criticism for violating electoral laws, while Commerce and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi resigns after reports that money intended for campaigns was used for the wrong purpose.


Sanctions against Russia are tightened

Japan tightens sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine crisis. The sanctions are aimed at Russian banks in Japan and against arms exports.

New minister appointed

Yashuisa Shiozaki is appointed as new Minister of Health, Welfare and Labor Market Affairs, which will, among other things, prepare a more active role in the markets for the state’s huge pension fund.

Government with more women

Prime Minister Abe is conducting a reform of government – the first since the elections in December 2012. The most important change is that women’s representation in the government increases, as Abe appoints 5 new female ministers. As a result, 7 of the 18 members of government are women. Abe has previously described women as an “underutilized asset” in Japan, and he has set a goal of having 30 percent women in leadership positions by 2020. In Parliament’s lower house, 39 out of 480 members are women.


Sentenced to death

Two more convicts are executed. Thus, a total of eleven prisoners have been hanged since Shinzo Abe formed his government in 2012.

China is perceived as a threat

Japan’s annual defense report denotes China’s attempt to control disputed sea areas as risky and very dangerous. This is partly because it can trigger weapons efforts that neither party wants, and partly because China’s growing ambition to control large sea areas is perceived as a threat by both Japan and other countries in the region.

Protests on Okinawa

Residents of Okinawa are organizing protest demonstrations as construction workers begin work on constructing new runways for military aircraft at Camp Schwab. This is all part of the planned relocation of the US air base on Okinawa from a densely populated area to the northern part of the island (see December 2013).

Ministers visit temples

Two of the government ministers visit the Yasukuni Temple on the anniversary of Japan’s capitulation in World War II to honor Japanese casualties.


Nuclear power restart permit

Japan’s Nuclear Inspection provides preliminary permit for the restart of two nuclear reactors near Sendai on the southern island of Kyushu. If they receive a definitive clearance, these reactors will be the first to receive green light according to the stricter requirements introduced after the nuclear accident in Fukushima in 2011. At present, all reactors are stationary in Japan.

Mitigation of sanctions

The government announces that some of Japan’s sanctions against North Korea will be alleviated as part of the dialogue on the Japanese kidnapped by the North Koreans in the 1970s and 1980s. The dialogue resumed in May, after talks in Stockholm.

New interpretation of defense legislation

On July 1, the government adopts a new and controversial interpretation of the Constitution to open up the possibility of deploying Japanese military in combat overseas under certain circumstances, according to the report presented in May. The interpretation must be approved by Parliament. The government thus avoids trying to rewrite section 9 of the Constitution which states that Japan may only use force in self-defense. A strong popular opinion is opposed to such a change.


Abe comments on whaling

Prime Minister Abe is making a play about the whaling, since the International Court of Justice in The Hague in March decided that Japan’s whaling cannot be seen as scientific research. After the decision, the Japanese whaling in Antarctica was stopped. Abe says he intends to try to start a commercial election hunt in this area again, “by conducting election research”.

Reduction of corporate tax

The government announces that the corporate tax rate will be reduced in a number of steps, starting next year. For large companies based in Tokyo, the corporate tax rate is now almost 36 percent, which is high compared to other industrialized countries.

Increased inflation

Statistics show that consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 3.4 percent in May; the highest rate of inflation measured in 32 years. The increase in prices is largely due to the increase in VAT in April.


Abe wants to review defense laws

After the report, Prime Minister Abe announces that he will try to get a review of the defense laws.

“Defense legislation should be changed”

In a new report, a group of advisers, appointed by Prime Minister Abe, recommends that Japanese defense legislation be changed. The panel, like Abe himself, believes that Japan, together with allied countries, should be able to intervene to defend a country from outside attacks, as a form of collective self-defense. Such a change would mean a new interpretation of the Constitution that prohibits the use of force if it is not about defending Japan against an attacker.


Warning from the IMF

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns in a report that Prime Minister Abe’s economic policies may fail to meet their targets unless major structural reforms to the economy are implemented.

Obama confirms security pact

At a visit to Japan at the end of the month, US President Barack Obama confirms that the security pact with the US, which guarantees Japan protection from an external attack, also covers the islands of Senkaku. China, which also claims the archipelago (called Diaoyu in Chinese), criticizes the US position.

VAT is increased

Japan’s VAT increases from 5 to 8 percent at the start of the new financial year on April 1.


Mayor election is won by Masuzoe

Yoichi Masuzoe wins the mayoral election in Tokyo. He has the support of the LDP government party and, like Prime Minister Abe, is positive about the use of nuclear power. His main challenger has highlighted his nuclear resistance to get support from voters, many of whom are negative to nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, but other issues came to dominate the electoral debate.


The government is awaiting publication

The government is waiting to announce a new long-term energy plan following widespread public protests. The plan would replace a previous 2011 government decision to gradually phase out the use of nuclear power. Instead, the government of Abe believes that nuclear power is needed in the short term to meet the country’s energy needs. In the longer term, however, Abe wants to reduce its dependence on nuclear power. An opinion poll in January shows that close to two-thirds of thousands of surveyed Japanese are against re-launching the country’s nuclear power plant.

Trade deficit for 2013

Economic statistics show a strong deficit in the trade balance for 2013. Compared to 2012, the deficit has increased by as much as 65 percent. The fact that the value of the Japanese yen has fallen sharply against the US dollar, as a result of the government’s economic policy, is one of the reasons why import costs have increased. Exports, on the other hand, have benefited from a weaker yen.

Mayor promises to stop the move

A mayor of the city of Nago in northern Okinawa is re-elected in a local election. He promises to do everything to stop the planned relocation of the US military base (see December 2013) to the Henoko district of Nago.

Japan Energy and Environment Facts

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