Despite the government’s plan to restart nuclear power plants, the Japanese people are far from convinced of their safety. Nuclear energy still only accounts for around 6% of all energy sources in Japan, far from the 20-30% that the Basic Energy Plan calls for by FY2030. The government has long avoided facing reality and delayed making decisions. Now the plan urgently needs to be revised.
Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, over 50 nuclear plants stopped generating power. Only nine plants in western Japan operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co., have been restarted, bringing the ratio of nuclear power significantly down from the 25% it accounted for prior to the accident.
Currently Japan has a total of 35 nuclear power plants, excluding those destined to be decommissioned and including two under construction. According to an estimate by Renewable Energy Institute, even with all 35 nuclear plants in operation, the nuclear energy production would meet only 15% of the nation’s energy needs in FY2030.
It is unrealistic to expect that all 35 nuclear plants will resume operation. Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama said that constructing new plants or adding facilities to existing ones would be difficult, and that his ministry will pour its energy into restarting existing plants in the next 10 years. It is highly likely that the ratio of nuclear power in the FY2030 energy supply will be quite low.
In principle, the maximum lifespan of a nuclear plant is 40 years. Even if an extension were approved, it would only be for up to 60 years. If the plants were to retire one by one in accordance with the current rule, the number of nuclear plants in Japan would dwindle to less than 20 by 2050 and none by 2070.
An energy plan that fails to reflect reality would jeopardize the viability of government policies. It could even hinder the introduction of renewable energy, which the government has prioritized as a future energy source in Japan.
The Suga administration is trying to make progress on various issues related to nuclear power that the previous Abe administration had put off, but the situation is extremely dire. With regard to the radioactive water that has been accumulating at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant ever since the nuclear accident, the government is currently planning to make a decision to discharge the water into the ocean by the end of the month. Local fishing communities are protesting fiercely and even if the discharge takes place, the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. estimate that it would not be until between 2041 and 2051 that they would finish decommissioning the Fukushima reactors.
Since many nuclear plants have not resumed operations, the “nuclear fuel cycle” project to process spent nuclear fuel into a reusable energy source has also come to a halt.
Disposing of nuclear waste is another problem. Although two municipalities in Hokkaido have volunteered to provide sites for burying nuclear waste, their applications are only in the initial stages of document review, and the outcome is still uncertain.
The Suga administration hopes to realize a “post-carbon society,” and METI has begun drafting revisions to the basic energy plan. The central government must proactively engage in ensuring the security of nuclear power plants and provide clear explanations to the Japanese people.