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Why earthquake-prone Japan relies on nuclear power

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Yasushi Kann/The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP

(Read caption) Fukushima Daiichi power plant's Unit 1 is seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on Friday, March 11. The nuclear power plant affected by a massive earthquake is facing a possible meltdown, an official with Japan's nuclear safety commission said Saturday.

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Nuclear energy provides an estimated 30 percent of electricity in Japan, despite it being one of the world's most seismically volatile nations.

Why? Nuclear power is increasingly seen as a way for Japan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. That's the same reason why President Obama has also been pushing the US to build its first nuclear power plant in almost three decades. In his 2010 State of the Union address, he called for "a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants."

But as shown by the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, with two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station suffering explosions since Friday's massive earthquake knocked out cooling systems at the plant, there is simply no easy solution to humanity's need for energy. While fossil fuel raises concerns of climate change, nuclear energy raises the specter of radioactive contamination.

"Japan's debate closely mirrors those worldwide, as governments highlight nuclear power as an easier way to cut carbon emissions than boosting wind and solar power," the Monitor wrote a year ago in the article "Earthquake prone Japan sees green in new nuclear power plants."

Nuclear role in cutting carbon


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