Forum Report

"Energy Security and Energy Transition: The Case of Japan and its Global Implications," the first in a series of forums titled "Reexamining Japan in Global Context," was held at the International House of Japan on December 17, 2012.

Since the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in March 2011, Japan has faced a pressing need to rethink its energy policy. Forum participants exchanged views regarding the policies Japan should consider over the short as well as long term, and considered what the rest of the world can learn from Japan's efforts. The two presenters were Vaclav Smil, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at University of Manitoba, and Tanaka Nobuo, Special Advisor to The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, and one of the chief architects of Japan's energy policy. After the two presentations, the presenters and other participants shared their valuable insights about the present status of Japan's energy policy and the problems it faces. Of particular interest were the following topics: 1) whether it is possible for developed states to completely go non - nuclear; 2) whether Japanese public would be willing to accept higher costs for transitioning toward alternative non - nuclear energy sources, as it has been done in Germany; and 3) the true reason for the Liberal Democratic Party's victory in the December general election, despite the fact that the party has been consistently against "zero - nuclear" policy.

For further detail on the presentations and the Q&A sessions, please refer to the following files.

Vaclav Smil

Final Report

The first of the two keynote speeches, by Professor Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba, was on energy transitions. Professor Smil succinctly summarized his main point in two Latin words: festina lente (make haste slowly). Modern civilization is characterized by high "density of people (anthropomass) "requiring concomitantly high density of power generation. Naturally, we have built our energy structure accordingly. This is the main reason why we have been relying heavily on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas): they have high energy densities and are readily sourced, transported, and converted into useful form. The energy infrastructure we have built around fossil fuels (and to a lesser extent nuclear power and hydroelectricity) are effective, but were costly to build and are not easily reconfigured or substituted for more environmentally - friendly alternatives such as solar or wind. Based on Marchetti's energy substitution model, we would expect constant shifts in stages from one energy source to another; but the reality is that multiple sources are used concurrently, owing to the sunk costs of investment in infrastructure.

Developed countries such as Japan have been diversifying their energy portfolios by utilizing both traditional and alternative sources, driven in part by rising social awareness of environmental considerations but constrained by technological challenges. In the end, the most important question is not how we can sustain the current level of energy generation, but whether we need all the energy that we are generating, particularly given the environmental price we are paying. The answer is no: beyond a certain threshold, increased energy consumption does not correlate with an increase in happiness. We can sustain our subjective well - being with less energy than is currently generated, and with more environmentally - friendly alternatives. The trick is to move in this direction by "small and numerous pieces." Rushing is a shortcut for failure; starting with relatively low - cost measures - such as carbon taxes and mandating lighter and more efficient vehicles - would set us down the path toward a smooth, realistic energy transition.

●Profile Professor Vaclav Smil
Distinguished Professor, the Faculty of Environment, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg

Nobuo Tanaka
Nobuo Tanaka

The second presentation, by Mr. Nobuo Tanaka, Global Associate for Energy Security and Sustainability at The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, was titled "Post Fukushima Energy Strategy: Energy Security and Sustainability in Asia." We are living in an era in which the definition of energy security has been expanded to incorporate strategies for achieving sustainable and stable sources of energy beyond fossil fuels. Oil, coal, and gas, however, will continue to be major sources of energy in the decades to come, and both developed and developing countries are still heavily investing in them. Japan must take this global trend into consideration when formulating its own energy - security strategy.

The United States will soon become "energy independent," at least for a short while, as domestic production of unconventional oil and gas grows. The cheap energy available within the United States will result in domestic market expansions, causing global economic shifts that will see jobs move back to developed countries from emerging economies such as China. Developed countries other than the United States, however, will continue to rely heavily on Middle Eastern oil, and as a result the region will maintain its vital role in international energy supply. Since the United States will continue to shoulder most of the burden of reconstructing Iraq and handling a possible crisis around the Strait of Hormuz, it will also likely demand more in the way of contributions from its allies, who reap the main benefits of a stable Middle East.

It would be prudent for Japan to diversify its energy supplies and minimize its over - dependence on oil, which makes it extremely vulnerable to potential future crises (for example, with Iran). One reasonable option is Russian natural gas, but Japan pays a premium for natural gas imports, owing to a paucity of alternatives post - Fukushima. For this reason, at least some nuclear plants must be reopened. Having alternative energy available in the form of nuclear power can strengthen Japan's negotiation position and provide the country with cost - effective electricity while Japan and other developed countries build new infrastructures for renewable energies. Simply phasing out nuclear power for domestic political reasons without considering the reality of Japan's long - term energy security is a mistake.

●Profile Mr. Nobuo Tanaka
Global Associate for Energy Security and Sustainability, the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan

Reported by Seung Hyok Lee




Both Prof. Smil and Mr. Tanaka made clear that there is no technological quick fix to our future energy supply and that we will continue to depend upon a variety of primary energy sources including oil and nuclear while roles of renewable will continue to be limited. But from a viewpoint of social and political implications, some renewables may deserve more attention as they are effective in sensitizing general population to links between stable and ample energy supply on one hand and costs and risks involved on the other as they are more visible and local than electricity generated by a nuclear power station far away. Encouraging local solar generation will not supplant oil, gas or nuclear but it can make us somewhat more responsible for our collective decisions over energy.

Masayuki Tadokoro (Director of JGC)

In the near future, we will upload comments about this forum. We will welcome your valuable comment.


Mon-Han Tsai
Chiba University

The project of 'Re-examining Japan in global context' is of great importance. The project, whenconceived aptly and executed effectively, can shed light on the roadmap for Japan and East Asia in the 21st century.
After reading the excellent report on the first workshop of the project and the homepage of the project, I have one or two points to add:
If Japan continues the downward slide, Japan will not be the first great country to experience decline nor will it be the last in history. While there is something arguably new under the sun in the case of Japan's two lost decades, Japan also exhibits a number of fairly typical decline symptoms found in other historical precedents. Will Japan really be able to arrest decline? Or should Japan accept the inevitable and concentrate on managing decline? I very much hope this project will addressthese questions in due course.

Alan Brinkley
Columbia University

I was impressed by your work on how to diversify Japanese energy. I also understand your problems with nuclear energy, and on an island that has earthquakes periodically, nuclear energy will be very difficult. But I know that there is no single answer to energy, and I realize that with such density in Tokyo and much of the rest of Japan that there will be a need for a range of energies, some of which that will damage the environment. The same is true in the United States, but my country has not made as much effort to diversity energy.

Thomas Homer-Dixon
Balsillie School of International Affairs

I'm an enormous admirer of Vaclav Smil and his analysis. He has fundamentally shaped modern thinking about the possibility and dynamics of complex energy transitions. He may, though, be underestimating the potential for increased use of renewables in coming decades. Two recent reports in the United States suggest that renewables could play a much bigger role more quickly than commonly assumed. Mark Jacobson of Stanford and colleagues have recently established the feasibility of moving New York State to a largely renewable energy system.
And a study by the National Research Council released two weeks ago ( concludes that the US could cut its oil use in cars and trucks by half by 2030 through increased reliance on renewables. While the findings of these reports may not be directly applicable to Japan, they are nonetheless highly relevant to the country's coming energy transition. The Suntory Foundation is clearly grappling with these issues in a substantive and vitally important way.

Marie Lall
University of London

Energy security and energy transitions are pertinent themes across Asia and the world, and it is commendable that in light of the Fukushima disaster this project creates a platform for honest debate and discussion.
Both keynote speeches grapple with the important question of Japan's energy security and what role nuclear power should play in the future. The speakers seem to agree that giving up nuclear energy altogether is not a viable option. In light of this both also look at the neighbourhood and the context that politicises and complicates energy matters infinitely. As is well pointed out by Mr Tanaka, giving up Japan's nuclear reprocessing facilities as a part of abandoning nuclear power, would have political consequences, well beyond Japan's energy market.
Alternatives, both in terms of fossil fuels and environmentally more friendly technology are explored. The drawbacks of alternative energy are clearly described in Prof Smil's presentation. It is clear that the EU countries that are increasingly using alternative sources of energy have a different mindset. What might be important for Japan to consider in the future is in what way education can change the Japanese mindset vis-a-vis alternative sources of energy, so as to make that part of a healthy energy mix. Germany for example hones the protection of the environment in school.
Natural gas as an alternative is mentioned in both speeches, however leaves the reader without a clear understanding of what role this fuel could play in Japan's future. Given that this is the cleanest fossil fuel, and available in abundance in Siberia, it would have been helpful to have a closer examination of the geopolitical and political economic issues that surround an increase use of natural gas for Japan. Pipeline diplomacy is nothing new in Asia; unfortunately it has not been as successful as many had hoped as gas pipelines between India and its neighbours have failed to materialise. However this is not to say that if there is political will in East Asia, natural gas diplomacy might help both in terms of Japan's energy mix, as well as in terms of relations between Russia, China and Japan in the future.
Overall this is an interesting start to an important set of debates. I look forward to reading the next reports.

Fumiaki Kubo
University of Tokyo

It seems to be very tough to predict anything on energy. In the 1970s, we heard a lot about "the limits to growth." For the United States of America to be an oil export country was beyond imagination until a decade ago.
In Japan of the 1970s, almost everyone was pessimistic about the future of energy. In the 2010s, only few Japanese had a strong concern about the energy situation until March of 2011. Therefore, we have to say that nothing is certain in the world of energy.
Still, we need to keep working every day in order to be secure in energy as well as to be flexible in responding to any contingencies in the future. I say just two things in this context.
Alliance might sound a bit irrelevant to energy security. The third version of so-called Armitage-Nye Report made public in the summer of 2012, however, insists in its last part that the US Congress revise the current legislation that restricts the export of natural gas to only the countries that conclude the free trade agreement with the US or those that get a permit from the Secretary of Energy so that the American allies could receive a preferential treatment. Although it is not likely for the Congress to do that anytime soon, it would be a constructive thing for Japan to try to forge a stronger tie with the US on energy by asking the Energy Department of the US to issue a permit for the export of natural gas to Japan or by concluding a FTA with the US or joining the Trans Pacific Partnership. It would be nice to see our bilateral relations becoming a multilayered alliance. In fact, Japan cooperated with the US sanctions against Iran by reducing the amount of import of crude oil in spite of the energy shortage after the nuclear accident in March 2011. Incidentally, the prospect of Japan importing natural gas from the US would bolster its bargaining position against Russia in its negotiation on energy as well as the Northern Territories.
Second, ambitious research and investment in new energy sources are indispensable. The shale gas is a product of research and development since the 1970s by Americans. For example, there might be a day in the not so distant future for Japan to make a maximum use of methane hydrate at a cheap cost if we keep working really hard, perhaps with some incentives offered by government.

David A. Welch
University of Waterloo

We stand at the cusp of important decisions about energy. The easy way is the old way: dig coal, pump oil and gas, and sit back and watch the planet overheat. We do not know the consequences of this exactly, but it is conceivable that it would drive an unprecedentedly rapid mean temperature change that might very well threaten civilization itself.
As is often the case, Japan's energy challenges are energy opportunities, and Japan has a chance to show the rest of us how to get it right. Professor Smil and Mr. Tanaka provided all of the necessary background for a serious, forward-thinking discussion of how we can—and how we must—change our patterns of consumption and our sources of energy. One can only hope that policy makers everywhere realize the importance of this discussion, and act upon it before it is too late.

Naoto Nonaka
Gakushuin University

'Japan in Global Context' initiative is precisely what we should try to do urgently. As the first round of the initiative, the theme and the presentations by Professor Smil and Mr. Tanaka were both excellent. Also I was quite impressed by the discussions that followed. As both presenters pointed out, Japan's choice may become critical not only for Japan itself but also for the future of the entire globe. And interestingly enough, actual situation in Japan is strongly swayed by the political factors. Then it may be quite important to take Japan's politics into consideration also under 'Japan in Global Context'.

Satoshi Machidori
Kyoto University

If Japan would like to make policies acceptable for its own people and understandable for the international society, it should have an open and well-balanced policy community. The idea has become much more relevant, after Japan has suffered from the recent earthquake, tsunami, and the disastrous accident of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It is the Reexamining Japan in Global Context, a newly-launched project of the Suntory Foundation, which attempts to fulfill this task by bridging policy experts and public intellectuals through intensive discussions. The Forum Report shows that now we can objectively discuss the risks and possibilities of nuclear energy for the first time since March 11, 2011. I truly hope that this ambitious project will bear fruit to help Japan building a better policy community and to facilitate deeper understanding of Japanese society and its policies among general pubic around the world.

Setsuzo Kosaka
The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation

As a former Chair of the Committee on Environment and Energy at Japan Association of Corporate Executives, I read the report as someone with a strong personal interest in energy issues.
We Japanese are often said to "forget everything in haste"; Professor Smil's suggestion of "festina lente" impressed me profoundly in this regard, and I would like Reexamining Japan in Global Context to continue its work following this principle with patience and steadfastness.

Ken Endo
Hokkaido University

Two years after 3/11, everybody has already - and decidedly - taken a position in Japan: the pro-nuke stance with which to maintain mixed sources of energy, or the anti where the nuclear power stations ought to be phased out. Yes, welcome (back) to the dialogue of deaf! While the future has yet to be written, the regulatory battles are silently being fought on the less salient fronts from the strengthening of regulations on the nuclear power stations to the separating the electricity production from its distribution. We probably need an even more sober mind than ever to see through these battles in years or even decade to comes.

Kazuto Suzuki
Hokkaido University

I strongly agree with Professor Vaclav Smil that the process of energy transformation should follow the principle of "festina lente". Because many people in Japan witnessed the horrible picture of the reactor building blowing up during the Fukushima nuclear accident, there is a strong public urge that nuclear plants have to be stopped. However, this "avoid anything that could bring us misfortune at all cost" mind-set ends up creating further pressure on the society and often non-realistic policy options. I think "festinalente" should be understood by more Japanese as a realistic approach for reducing our dependence on nuclear in the long-run.

Tosh Minohara
Kobe University

Giving serious thought to Japan's current and future energy strategies is a prudent and timely task indeed, given the domestic post-Fukushima apprehension towards nuclear energy and the shale oil/gas revolution unfolding in the United States. Prof. Smil's "festina lente" accurately describes the energy situation since the industrial revolution was launched based on steam power relying on coal. However, I would also like to add "carpe diem" to Japan's energy strategy, as rapid advances in technology and high oil prices have now made it an opportune time to invest in renewables and to tackle the issue of peak and valleys in energy output through diversification of sources. This leads to Mr. Tanaka's excellent presentation emphasizing the need to pay heed to energy security issues; a sound advice which there can be little, if any, disagreement. To this effect, it would be interesting to learn more about the potential regarding Japan's own natural energy reserves beneath the ocean floor, as well the possibility of expanding Japan's electric grid beyond its borders by linking up with South Korea. This would also require addressing Japan's anachronistic and inefficient dual power frequency zones between Eastern and Western Japan. In conclusion, kudos for both speakers in tackling an important topic for the future of Japan!


We are going to discuss about "Happiness" in the next forum in May.

Peace, prosperity and democracy are values almost unanimously accepted in the modern world. Japan is no exception. In postwar Japan, these values, rather than national glory, have been actively pursued by almost all regardless of political ideology or social status. Japan has managed to avoid war for nearly 70 years, which is a blessing many on this planet cannot enjoy. Japan's economic stagnation is well known, but there is no denying that Japanese people are among the most privileged anywhere in terms of material affluence. They have the world's longest life expectancy, enjoy good health, and have access to excellent public services.
The Japanese have every reason to be happy with their lives; and yet, frustration and pessimism are prevalent in Japan today. According to the 2005 World Values Survey, Japan is one of the least happy OECD members. Many other surveys also provide strong evidence of a negative national mood.
Why? Is it because peace, prosperity and democracy in Japan are illusory or unsatisfying? Is there something wrong with the postwar Japanese value system? Is this a uniquely Japanese problem? If not peace, prosperity and democracy, then what? We seek to explore the sources of Japan's malaise, and identify potential ways of improving its national happiness.

Masayuki Tadokoro (Director of JGC)

(In the Second forum, Professor Nattavudh (Nick) Powdthave of London School of Economics & Political Science and Professor Yukiko Uchida of Kyoto University are going to make presentations. The report will be carried later.)