Kishida hints at continued use of nuclear energy amid Ukraine crisis


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has hinted at increased use of nuclear energy as energy prices soar due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Behind Kishida’s decision are growing concerns over how to ensure a stable supply of electricity following the government’s decision to ban coal imports from Russia in stages as part of its sanctions against Moscow.

He apparently hopes to see if nuclear power can be used as a stable energy source despite the continued public distrust of nuclear power plants.

Kishida announced the elimination of Russian coal at a press conference on Friday. He also said that Japan will “maximize the use of highly efficient energy sources in terms of energy security and decarbonization, including renewable energy and nuclear energy.”

“Nuclear energy is a basic energy source necessary for decarbonization and is important in terms of stable (energy) supply,” Kishida told a plenary meeting of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the country. parliament on March 31.

Russia accounts for 11% of Japan’s total coal imports.

With coal prices soaring, the phasing out of Russian coal will almost certainly affect the lives of citizens, including through increases in electricity tariffs.

Meanwhile, it is difficult to rapidly expand the use of renewable energy sources – whose yields vary according to weather conditions – given the high costs of building the related facilities.

“The only alternative is nuclear. If the current situation continues, a massive power outage could occur in December or later,” a government source close to Kishida said.

Last month, the government issued its first power shortage warning in the service areas of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (Tepco) and Tohoku Electric Power Co. to avert a huge outage caused by a power shortage. .

The shortage stems largely from one particular factor, namely the suspensions of thermal power plants following a major earthquake northeast of Fukushima prefecture on March 16. But the warning sparked public concern over the country’s power supply capabilities.

According to its basic energy plan, drawn up in October last year, the government aims to increase the share of nuclear power to 20-22% of the country’s total electricity production in the financial year 2030, compared to just 3.9% in fiscal year 2020.

Ten of the country’s 36 domestic nuclear reactors still in operation have restarted since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered a nuclear accident at Tepco’s No. 1 power plant in Fukushima.

Currently, only five of them are in operation, including Reactor No. 3 of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party said in a draft emergency economic measures proposal drafted on Monday that Japan “will make maximum use of various energy sources to ensure a stable electricity supply.”

There is “no change” in the government’s policy to approve the resumption of operations of nuclear power plants when the Nuclear Regulatory Authority confirms that the facilities meet its new safety standards, said the chief secretary of the Cabinet Hirokazu Matsuno at a press conference on the same day.

However, an LDP source complained about the slow progress of authority checks, saying the government “has dithered repeatedly to evade accountability”.

Opposition forces criticize the LDP and the government for their apparent eagerness to expand the use of nuclear power.

“It is a big mistake if (the government) intends to rush things like an emergency escape,” Sumio Mabuchi, parliamentary affairs chief for the main opposition Constitutional Party, told reporters. Democrat of Japan.

Taro Yamamoto, leader of the opposition Reiwa Shinsengumi party, warned against taking advantage of the Ukraine crisis to drum up support for greater use of nuclear energy.

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