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Japan likely to postpone plans to build new nuclear plants

  • February 21, 2018
  • , Yomiuri , p. 9
  • JMH Translation

Discussions on revising the country’s basic energy plan are entering a critical phase ahead of its completion scheduled for this spring. The primary focus of the discussions is how detailed the plan should be on the necessity to build new nuclear power plants and expand existing ones. But chances are high that the government will delay a decision in light of a public backlash.

 

Business owners called for the utilization of nuclear power plants, which can generate power at lower costs than thermal power plants, at an expert committee of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that discusses the basic energy plan held on Feb. 20.

 

The discussions started in August last year. But the prevailing view is that the utilization of nuclear power plants, which do not emit carbon dioxide when they generate electricity, is indispensable to strike a balance between reducing electricity rates and promoting measures to prevent global warming.

 

The Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, also requested in its proposal issued in November last year that “replacement (rebuilding at existing nuclear plant facilities) and new construction or expansion should be included in the government’s policies with an eye on long-term measures to prevent global warming.”

 

The current plan compiled in 2014 defines atomic energy as an “important base-load power source” and sets a goal of using nuclear power to provide 20-22% of the domestic energy supply by fiscal 2030. The METI speculates that roughly 30 nuclear plants need to be operated in Japan to achieve that goal.

 

But the power industry in particular adopts the view that resuming operations of existing nuclear reactors will not be sufficient to reach that goal and that building new ones or expanding existing plants is necessary. The view is based on the fact that reactors are allowed to operate for up to 40 years in principle in Japan and about 20 reactors will reach this limit by 2030.

 

Still, there is a strong chance that the government will put off making a decision on new or additional nuclear plants because public opposition is still mounting. The cost of dealing with the aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant currently amounts to some 22 trillion yen and many residents are still forced to live in evacuation areas. Many at METI, which oversees energy policy, believe that new and expanded nuclear plants are necessary. But a government source says that there is a growing view within the government that it “can’t win public understanding for new and expanded plants because hardly any of the existing reactors have been restarted.”

 

In light of these situations, the government is leaning toward postponing a decision on new and expanded plants until the basic energy plan is revised again three to four years from now. It will try to resume operations of existing reactors and rebuild the public’s confidence in nuclear power generation for the time being. (Abridged)

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