Nuclear power vital to overcoming electricity crisis

Nuclear power plants, which can provide a stable power supply, have become increasingly important amid the ongoing electricity supply crunch. The government should move away from its hesitance to utilize nuclear power and tackle head-on the restarting and construction of nuclear reactors.

In addition to the 10 nuclear reactors that have already been reactivated, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that the government will aim to restart seven more next summer or later. He also said the government intends to speed up the consideration of new nuclear reactor construction, the building of replacements for existing reactors and the development of next-generation reactors.

In the past, the government had simply reiterated calls for the “maximum use” of nuclear power. It is laudable that the government has changed its ambiguous stance and set a numerical target. It is also reasonable that the government has made a policy shift regarding new reactor construction, about which it had previously said such a move was not envisioned.

However, it must be said that the government was too slow in making the move.

Solar and other renewable energy sources have the drawback of generating fluctuating amounts of electricity depending on the weather, and thermal power currently makes up for the shortfall. However, investment in thermal power generation has dwindled in recent years amid a trend of decarbonization, and there has been a spate of plant closures and suspensions.

With the electricity supply remaining tight, utility companies are dealing with the situation by taking such measures as reactivating thermal power plants that had been offline due to aging. However, it is said that this winter will be even tougher.

With fuel prices soaring due to the Ukraine crisis, it can be said that it is inevitable that the focus would fall on nuclear power, which has been referred to as a “quasi-domestic energy source.”

One of the factors that has slowed the resumption of operations at nuclear plants is the time it takes for the Nuclear Regulation Authority to conduct safety screenings. In an effort to restore public confidence in nuclear regulations, which was eroded after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the introduction of new regulatory standards that are said to be the strictest in the world is understandable.

However, in trying to promote rigorous safety screenings, has the NRA become a rigid organization isolated from society? It is hoped that the NRA will aim for rational and efficient screenings by communicating with the business community and the power industry.

The stalled restart of reactors has weakened Japan’s nuclear sector. A number of companies are withdrawing from the industry, and there is a fear that the supply chain for domestically produced parts will become unsustainable. If the pool of talented students and researchers in the field decreases, the passing down of technology will be at risk.

It is necessary to prevent the industry from declining by promoting the construction of new nuclear reactors.

The government has said it will consider extending the operation of nuclear reactors that have been out of action for long periods due to safety inspections, but from the standpoint of safety, wouldn’t it make more sense to replace them utilizing the latest technology?

In many cases, there have been difficulties in gaining the consent of local communities to restart nuclear reactors. It shouldn’t be left up to power companies. Since nuclear power generation has been promoted as a national policy, the government must be at the forefront in seeking the understanding of local governments and the people, and take the initiative in restarting nuclear reactors and building new ones.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 27, 2022)