March 11, 2011 changed Japan forever. Just before 3pm local time, a magnitude 9 earthquake created a Tsunami that devastated a large region of the Eastern coast of Japan, killing thousands.
It also triggered meltdowns in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing explosions in three reactors, with the surrounding area now likely to be contaminated for decades.
Such instances are rare, but the disaster turned the tide of opinion against nuclear power in Japan. It may also have shifted customers' opinions of electric cars, reports Detroit News.
As zero local emissions vehicles, electric cars are immediately cleaner than internal combustion vehicles. However, they typically rely on power stations to generate the electricity they use. The cleanliness of this varies depending on how the power is being generated.
Renewable sources like solar, wind and hydro are ideal, and many would say idealistic. Coal, gas and oil, as fossil fuels, aren't so good. Nuclear is a compromize that many accept, with the generation being essentially clean, but with dubious longer-term issues.
In the event of a catastrophe rendering some of your country uninhabitable, even the short-term benefits of nuclear power become moot. The Japanese government had intended to increase nuclear power from a third of Japan's energy mix, to a half.
The image of electric cars has become a further casualty of the disaster. With Japan currently relying mostly on fossil fuels for electricity generation, their green image has suffered. Now that nuclear also has a tainted image, even EVs run on nuclear-generated electricity have an unfortunate association in the country.
Ryuichi Kino, an author who has written books on nuclear power and hybrid technology, told Detroit News that if nuclear remains a key power source, "then the green image of the electric car will get bashed to bits, maybe to the extent it will be irreparable."
Sales of electric cars have still been relatively impressive in Japan. Nissan has sold 12,000 Leafs in the country since its launch in late 2010. Compare that with the 10,000 sold in the U.S. since launch, despite a population over twice that of Japan.
That's clearly illustrative of Japan's suitability to support an electric car network, but while the country finds its feet in the years following the Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima disasters, the rise of electric cars may be a little slower than manufacturers were hoping.