FEW developed nations face greater challenges in meeting their citizens' energy needs than Japan. The country's nuclear power sector - which for decades compensated for the archipelago's lack of fossil fuel sources - has been down and out since last year's nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. Two signs of a revived energy sector are welcome. Nuclear power is being switched back on after reactors have been offline. New incentives for renewable power generation have been introduced. But there is need for caution.
In a slow regulatory ballet, local, regional and national authorities have prepared a nervous public for restarting nuclear power generation. The government is right to retain nuclear as a backbone of energy supply - for reasons both of energy security and climate policy.
But public attitudes cannot be ignored or taken for granted. The Japanese are rightly sceptical of industry and government claims that things are fine - also made before and during Fukushima. The governance of Japan's nuclear sector needs a culture change. Independence and transparency must now be demonstrated in each decision to bring a plant back on stream, so as to keep companies to high standards.
Policy incentives for renewable-energy generation make sense. The new feed-in tariff, which requires utilities to buy unlimited quantities of electric power from independent generators at a fixed high price, will no doubt expand renewables supply. However, there are risks.
The heavy-handed dirigisme of setting both prices and quantities can quickly run into problems and need changing. Frequently altering an imposed price regime sows uncertainty. Leaving in place a price that is too high shifts costs on to manufacturers already eager to relocate to lower-cost countries.
In Japan, high energy costs need not be insurmountable, as the post-Fukushima response shows. Policy should take care, however, not to add to the burdens of either cost or fear. London, June 22