Clean energy strategy to seek “maximum” use of nuclear energy

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s new “clean energy strategy” is expected to include the “maximum use” of nuclear energy, reflecting increased pressure from pro-nuclear politicians.

Proposals drawn up by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Energy Strategy Research Commission on May 17 indicate that energy sources that can improve energy security and encourage decarbonization should be used to the fullest. These sources include nuclear energy and renewable energy.

The proposals echoed the note from the Ministry of Industry published on May 13 on the new strategy.

“Maximum utilization” of nuclear energy has been included in Kishida’s draft action plan for a “new capitalism”, which is expected to be approved at a Cabinet meeting in early June.

In October last year, the Kishida administration’s medium to long-term energy plan stated that nuclear energy is essential for a low-carbon society.

But he also said the government would “reduce its dependence on nuclear energy as much as possible”. This was also the policy of the previous administration of Yoshihide Suga.

Koichi Hagiuda, Minister of Industry, said the new clean energy strategy does not contradict the existing basic energy plan.

“The clean energy strategy aims to make the most of all that we can use, including nuclear energy, to respond to circumstances such as the Ukrainian crisis and the shortage of energy supplies, provided that the nuclear energy is used safely,” Hagiuda told a news conference. May 17 press conference.

Electricity prices in Japan hit record highs as the Russian invasion of Ukraine pushed up the prices of liquefied natural gas and oil.

Prices could rise further if Japan continues to rely on thermal power generation while most of its nuclear reactors sit idle.

In fiscal year 2020, nuclear power plants accounted for just 3.9% of all electricity generated in Japan, a huge drop from 25.1% in fiscal year 2010, before the earthquake. earth and the 2011 tsunami in the Great East of Japan caused the triple meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant No. 1. plant.

Although the renewable energy figure increased from 9.5% to 19.8% during the same period, the percentage of thermal energy production increased from 65.4% to 76.3%.

“The Ukrainian crisis has demonstrated that we have reached the point where we have to use nuclear power plants,” said a senior industry ministry official.

Japan is also being criticized by other Group of Seven countries for its stance on decarbonization.

Britain and Germany, for example, have announced plans to shut down their coal-fired power stations within self-imposed deadlines. Japan’s current policy, however, is to use these factories for the foreseeable future.

The international situation and the desire to reduce greenhouse gases have encouraged nuclear supporters in Japan.

“Now is the time for nuclear energy,” said a member of the PLD Diet.

Kishida’s administration has followed the policy of previous administrations to restart nuclear reactors that meet safety standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority.

The NRA is very independent of the government. And prime ministers have generally refrained from referring to NRA safety assessments of reactors and nuclear power plants.

But in April, Kishida said on a TV show: “We need to explore how far we can go in restarting nuclear reactors by becoming more efficient, improving (NRA’s) assessment capability and continuing the necessary procedures.”

Some interpreted Kishida’s comment to mean that his administration would emphasize the use of nuclear power to curb rising energy prices and achieve decarbonization.

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, all reactors in Japan were shut down. The government had been reluctant to press for the reactor to restart to avoid provoking public criticism over safety.

However, this reluctance has dissipated within the government. Some officials in the Prime Minister’s Office are now advocating the construction of new nuclear power plants or the expansion or replacement of existing ones.

“It’s much safer to replace existing nuclear reactors using state-of-the-art technologies,” said one of those officials. “Passing the NRA assessment will be easy that way.”

A source close to the PM also said: ‘We will need to announce discussions on expanding or replacing existing facilities, not just restarting them, later this year.’

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government limited the operating period of nuclear reactors to 40 years, but said the period could be extended up to 20 years.

Its official position is that it “does not plan” to build new nuclear power plants or to expand or replace existing ones.

Japan currently has 36 nuclear reactors, including those under construction.

Even if the operating periods of all these reactors are extended by 20 years, the number of reactors will drop to 23 in 2050, eight in 2060 and eventually reach zero.

(This article was compiled from reports by Shiki Iwasawa, Shinichi Sekine, and Keishi Nishimura.)

The Asahi Shimbun


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