Eliza Strickland is a senior associate editor at the technology magazine IEEE Spectrum. Her special report on Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster helped Spectrum win a National Magazine Award for general excellence in 2012. On her current beat, biomedical engineering, she covers such topics as advanced prosthetics, neural engineering devices, and next-generation genome sequencing tools.
The Japanese government's decision to eliminate nuclear power entirely by the end of the 2030s has enormous economic and social repercussions for the nation. Japan committed to nuclear power sixty years ago because the country has no fossil fuel resources of its own, and needed to boost its energy independence. Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, when the country shut down all 54 of its nuclear reactors for extended safety checks, Japan has kept the lights on with mandated cuts in electricity use and the reopening of old fossil fuel plants. Now, with the long-term goal of permanently shutting down every nuclear reactor, accounting for about 50 gigawatts of energy, the nation will have to find sustainable solutions to meet its electricity requirements and keep the lights of Tokyo burning bright. How can Japan dismantle its nuclear industry, and what replacement energy sources will the country find? These are the questions I hope to investigate under the auspices of the Abe Fellowship for Journalists. As an editor at the international technology magazine IEEE Spectrum, I am positioned to probe the technical challenges that Japan must face to transition to a zero-nuclear society. The country's electricity grid, which is currently bifurcated between the east and west side of the country, is in dire need of modernization. And while the country's new energy plan calls for increasing electricity generation from renewable energy sources like solar and wind, the current limitations of these technologies pose daunting challenges for an energy-hungry society.