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Japan Quake and Nuclear Crisis Could Push Up Emissions, Delay Electric Vehicles

The Japanese earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear crisis may cause wide-ranging reverberations for corporate environmental efforts, from alternative-fuel vehicles to renewables.

Japanese auto makers reported factory closures, with Toyota – manufacturer of the world’s most popular hybrid car, the Prius – saying that its plants would be closed at least through Wednesday.

The damage to auto plants was not extensive, the New York Times reported, but damage to suppliers and to the nation’s transport infrastructure was expected to hamper production and deliveries. The disruption comes at a time when higher gasoline prices have piqued interest in efficient vehicles.

Nissan shipped out 600 of its all-electric Leafs to the U.S. one day before the earthquake hit, AutoEvolution reports. Some 2,300 brand-new Nissan vehicles were destroyed as they waited to be loaded onto a U.S.-bound ship, but these did not include any Leafs. Four Nissan plants will remain closed until Sunday. Nissan has already struggled to keep up with demand for the Leaf, and stopped taking orders when 20,000 units were pre-ordered by U.S. customers in early December.

President Obama has stood by nuclear power in the wake of the unfolding disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, but investor confidence in the industry has been shaken. A $10 billion nuclear plant being planned by NRG Energy for south Texas may never get built, analysts told Reuters. Standard and Poor said existing and proposed nuclear projects were at greater risk of cancellation and delay because of the events in Japan.

Investors’ doubts on nuclear are likely to benefit renewable and fossil fuels, BusinessGreen reports. “Shares in renewable energy industries yesterday rose while most other energy stocks fell,” said Clare Brook, fund manager of green investment group WHEB.

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement of a halt to seven nuclear reactors increased demand for fossil fuels in Europe and helped to push the price of carbon to a nearly two-year high, closing at 17.21 euro ($24.08) per metric ton on London’s ICE Futures Europe. The exchange saw its busiest day ever for carbon trading.

Merkel’s decision may remove 4.9 GW of capacity from the power market, Orbeo analyst Emmanuel Fages told Bloomberg, and utilities will likely respond by relying more on coal, oil and gas. Permanent closure of the seven reactors would push up emissions by 270 million tons through 2020 – an amount of carbon equal to 13 percent of this year’s European cap, Fages said.

Picture: A wrecked car outside Sendai Airport. Credit: Roberto De Vido

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