Nuclear Power Plays Major Role in Realizing Decarbonization in Japan

A stable supply of electricity is a prerequisite for realizing decarbonization in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government must aim to make effective use of nuclear power plants, which emit no carbon dioxide.

The government has begun full-fledged discussions to review current targets for its fiscal 2030 energy mix, in order to include the reviewed targets in its new Strategic Energy Plan. It said it will compile the plan by summer. This is expected to show a concrete path toward achieving the government’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The current energy plan devised in 2018 calls for renewable energy to account for 22% to 24% of the nation’s total power generation in fiscal 2030, nuclear power for 20% to 22% and thermal power for 56%. To realize decarbonization, it is imperative to significantly reduce the percentage of thermal power generation, which emits large amounts of greenhouse gases.

The business community called for including a policy to promote nuclear power generation as an alternative energy source in the new energy plan, during a meeting of a government expert panel.

The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) regards nuclear power as an energy source that can both provide a stable supply of electricity and be environmentally friendly, and it has called for restarting nuclear reactors steadily and building more nuclear power plants. The Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry has urged the government to take the initiative.

The business community’s awareness of the problems regarding this matter is reasonable. Of 33 nuclear reactors currently in the nation, only nine have gone back into operation following the Great East Japan Earthquake. The percentage of nuclear energy stood at 6% of the nation’s total power generation in fiscal 2019.

Regarding nuclear power, the current energy plan calls for the nation to “reduce its dependence as much as possible.” However, the global trend for decarbonization has since grown. To realize a decarbonized society, Japan faces a need to reconsider its energy mix.

On the other hand, at the expert meeting, a consumer group urged the government to abolish nuclear power and increase the percentage of renewable energy to more than 50%.

It is evident that renewable energy is essential for decarbonization, but relying on it excessively is risky.

In fiscal 2019, renewable energy accounted for 18% of the electricity supply, nearly double the figure before the Great East Japan Earthquake. This is because the government launched a program to purchase renewable energy at fixed prices in 2012, leading to an increase in the output of solar power. The cost of generating renewable energy has been passed on in electricity rates.

As a result, the financial burden on households and companies has risen by more than 10%, having a negative impact on the competitiveness of Japanese companies.

In January, a cold spell tightened the power supply mainly in western Japan, partly because of a sharp drop in sunlight due to snow. To expand the use of renewable energy, for which production is unstable, technological innovations such as the development of large-scale storage batteries are essential.

The government regards offshore wind power generation, which is widespread in Europe, as the new main source of renewable energy for Japan, but there are many challenges to overcome, including the development of facilities suited to Japan’s topography and weather conditions.

The government is urged to deepen discussions to come up with a balanced and realistic energy mix.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 26, 2021.