Another earthquake struck Japan today, calling into question (once again) the country’s capacity to use nuclear power. Estimates of the quake’s magnitude range from 5.3 to 5.8, but another tsunami like the one that decimated the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011 is not an issue because the center of the earthquake’s tremor was on land.
According to the Associated Press, Tokyo Electric Power Company hasn’t observed any irregularities at the Fukushima plant, located around 13 miles above the quake’s central hit zone. Regardless of earthquakes, though, the plant has been leaking radioactive water into the groundwater system and Pacific Ocean.
All nuclear plants are not created equal, and Japan’s position in the Ring of Fire is an increasing concern. Japan inadvertently went nuclear-free for the second time since the Fukushima disaster earlier this week when its last operational reactor went offline for scheduled maintenance.
Environmentalists and the public are pushing to keep Japan that way, and this latest quake is a formidable addition to their arsenal. National utilities argue that nuclear power is necessary to keep the country’s energy supply up to par, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has (at least before this most recent incident) supported the restart of Japan’s 50 reactors.
For Aussie investors, uranium suppliers like Energy Resources of Australia (ASX: ERA), Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO), Paladin Energy (ASX: PDN), and Summit Resources (ASX: SMM) could all feel sales slump if Japan looks to alternative energies. Energy Resources and Summit Resources are more pure plays on uranium, while Rio and Paladin play around with a plethora of natural resources. In and of itself, Japan’s market would be a big loss to these companies. But if Japan jumps ship, the country could also set a precedent for other nations to opt out of nuclear, as well.
The decision to keep or chuck nuclear is an emotional one with incomparable pros and cons. More important than what Japan should do is what Japan actually does, and investors should keep a close eye on the political and public discourses in the coming month.
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Motley Fool contributor Justin Loiseau has no position in any stocks mentioned in this article. You can follow him on Twitter @TMFJLo.