I am often struck by comments I hear that the shutdown of most of the nuclear power plants in Japan hasn't seemed to have much of an impact. The country continues to function, after all, doesn't it? People are not dying in masses on the streets because of lack of heat in the winter, are they?
True, a lot of conservation measures have been taken. Building hallways are darker and offices are warmer in the summer, but on the surface, everything looks like it is perking along more or less as usual.
What people do not realize, of course, is that the most serious effects are basically invisible to most of the people most of the time. A couple of weeks ago, a report came out that Japan's carbon dioxide intensity in FY2012 far exceeded the levels achieved in the past when all the nuclear power plants were in operation. This put Japan far beyond the carbon reduction targets they'd previously targeted to achieve.
This finding should not be surprising, because what Japan has done to keep the country functioning is to ramp up the use of fossil fuels. The public may feel that it is mainly their efforts to conserve energy, and the sacrifices of their comfort and convenience, that are allowing them to function without nuclear plants. However, in reality, a far larger effect has been the replacement of nuclear power by fossil-fired power plants.
There are other impacts as well. The higher costs of energy have had effects on the economy. For example, jobs have moved overseas as the cost and availability of energy made it less economical to manufacture goods in Japan. These causes and effects are also not readily visible to the average person.
Unfortunately, the fact that things look generally OK on the surface makes it easy for the Japanese public to believe that they can continue to function without returning their nuclear power plants to service. As long as they think that just notching the thermostat up or down a little will do the job, it will be difficult to get people to understand the need for nuclear power.