Japan confirms nuclear policy change

3 January 2023

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government has decided to allow nuclear reactors to operate beyond their current limit of 60 years and to replace ageing facilities with next-generation advanced reactors. This followed a recommendation to that effect by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). The policy change is opposed by political groups and environmentalists who advocate instead increasing the proportion of renewable resources in the energy mix. This includes the main opposition Constitutional Democratic, which aims to raise the proportion of renewables to 50% by 2030. 

This exceeds the government’s plan to increase the proportion of renewables to 36-38% in fiscal 2030 from 20% in fiscal 2020. The government also plans to raise the proportion of nuclear power to 20% to 22% from 3.9% to meet its target of carbon neutrality by 2050.

Industry minister Yasutoshi Nishimura defended the policy shift arguing that nuclear power does not emit carbon dioxide and other types of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. However, he said the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s expert panel meetings are open to the public online. “We would like to collect views from the public so we can study various options,” he told a news conference, implying that the government may review the policy in future.

The new policy was outlined by an advisory panel for the government. “There is a risk of an energy crisis for the first time since the 1973 oil crisis in the face of a severely tense situation,” said the 10-year road map released by the panel. “We recognised once again the fragility of our country’s energy supplies, which poses a challenge to our energy security,” it added.

According the panel, nuclear power serves "an important role as a carbon-free baseload energy source in achieving supply stability and carbon neutrality". Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he planned to get the Cabinet to approve the policy and submit necessary bills to Parliament.

Most of Japan’s power reactors remain offline since they were all closed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Of the original 60 units, only 10 have been restarted and seven others have received NRA approval to restart with final preparations underway. Another 10 reactors are undergoing safety inspections for restarts, and 24 reactors, including seven at the Fukushima Daiichi and Daiini plants, are undergoing decommissioning.

Image: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has confirmed significant changes to the country's nuclear power policy (courtesy of KYODO)

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