Interviewed by Nasu Shinichi
The Sankei Shimbun sat down with Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Kajiyama Hiroshi on Aug. 27. During the interview, the minister offered his views on the next Basic Energy Plan, which was drafted in July, and spoke about his energy policy going forward. Regarding nuclear power, which emits almost no carbon dioxide (CO2) when in operation, he expressed the government’s intention to support the participation of Japanese companies in the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).
Sankei: A draft of the next Basic Energy Plan has been compiled.
Kajiyama: METI’s Basic Policy Subcommittee alone held 17 rounds of discussions and compiled ambitious targets for Japan’s energy mix with an eye to acting in accord with the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. I have been involved in economic and industrial administration for a long time, and I feel that we have made the best possible proposal. We will introduce as much renewable energy as possible. We can definitely move forward with solar power. But it will not be easy to do so as there are practical issues, such as land available for solar power. We want to put as much infrastructure in place as possible in all areas, including the early commercialization of floating offshore wind turbines.
Sankei: The latest draft of the next Basic Energy Plan does not include the construction of new nuclear reactors to replace aging ones and to increase the capacity of existing nuclear plants.
Kajiyama: I am aware of the argument that reactor replacement will not be completed in time if we don’t start now. However, in the wake of the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the government decided not to proceed with replacement because it judged that the public’s trust in the technology and operations of nuclear power operators had not sufficiently been recovered yet and that such trust is essential. I believe that how the existing nuclear power plants are restarted will contribute to gaining the understanding of local communities and the public, which will eventually lead to the acceptance of replacing aging nuclear power plants.
Sankei: Some experts say it will be difficult to realize the goal of having nuclear power make up 20-22% of Japan’s energy mix by FY2030 simply by restarting existing nuclear power plants.
Kajiyama: We need to move forward with new technologies, such as SMRs and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs), which have been studied to date. We also need to develop the necessary human resources. Also, the government want to support an SMR project in which Japanese and U.S. companies are trying to build a prototype.
Introducing the maximum amount of renewable energy, as well as thermal power, hydrogen, and ammonia to supplement it will be insufficient to achieve the target of carbon neutrality. Under these circumstances, nuclear power will be an important option as a base load power source.
Sankei: What is your vision for energy policy going forward?
Kajiyama: Japan has no grid connection with foreign countries, nor does it have a single energy source that can completely secure domestic demand. How we maintain the balance among our various sources, therefore, is linked to economic security. I will not, however, use these conditions surrounding Japan’s energy situation as an excuse for not being able to meet the target. We will make maximum efforts, including technological development, to achieve the goals for 2030 and 2050. In addition, as the deregulation of the electric power industry moves forward, electricity generation, retailing, and transmission are being split up. How can we ensure a stable supply of electricity in a low-cost and efficient manner? We need to think carefully about this, including institutional aspects and resource acquisition.