In an interview he gave the Nikkei Shimbun on Jan. 7, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hagiuda Koichi said that he aims to introduce technology for CO2 capture and storage [CCS] by 2030 to reduce CO2 emissions from thermal power generation, which uses coal and natural gas. Meanwhile, Hagiuda said that “thermal power generation is necessary to a certain extent” to secure a stable energy supply, indicating that his ministry intends to maintain thermal power generation in Japan, while reducing the amount of CO2 emissions through CCS and other means.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has successfully carried out a demonstration involving the storage of 300,000 tons of CO2 at Tomakomai City, Hokkaido Prefecture. But so far, CCS has not been implemented in Japan, and hardly any nations in the world have put the technology to practical use.
“Various hurdles must be cleared before launching CCS, including establishing the technology, reducing costs, and developing suitable sites for storage,” said Hagiuda, adding, “It will be a joint private-public effort based on a long-term road map, which will be formulated by the end of the year.”
On Jan. 6, the power consumption rate in areas covered by the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s distribution networks reached 97%, indicating a tight power supply that necessitated receiving additional power from other utilities such as Kansai Electric Power Co. “We are aware that there are voices demanding a halt to the thermal power generation in Japan, but the ministry has the responsibility to protect industries and the livelihoods of the Japanese people,” Hagiuda stressed.
Asked his opinion on the rapid reduction of the thermal power generation in Europe in favor of renewable energy sources, Hagiuda said: “Not every European policy is the right solution. Japan must show results using its methods of choice.
As for nuclear power, the minister emphasized that the goal is to make progress in restarting operations of existing reactors under his watch, while obtaining understanding of local communities by prioritizing safety. He said he believes Japan can achieve its goal of covering 20-22% of the nation’s energy supply by FY 2030 by restarting existing nuclear reactors.
“The central government and utility companies should be at the forefront of providing clear explanations to the nuclear-plant-hosting communities,” he said.
“It is inevitable that we include [nuclear power] as a basic power source to achieve carbon neutrality in Japan,” said Hagiuda, indicating his intention to continue using nuclear power toward 2050, when Japan plans to fulfill the zero-CO2 emission pledge. Only about 20 reactors will be in operation in 2050, even if the government extended the life of all reactors to 60 years, which is the limit under the current rules. At some point, no reactor will remain in operation without its replacement or the addition of reactors. So far, the government rejected such options.
“At this time, we will abide by the basic principle that excludes building or replacing reactors,” said Hagiuda. “We must employ every means and policy to secure power supplies, however.”
Hagiuda pointed out that technologies used in existing reactors and surrounding infrastructure have improved, making nuclear power generation safer than before. “There is a strong possibility of new and different nuclear power technologies’ emerging in the future,” he said. “We place trust in the power of innovation and will continue research and to seek practical applications whenever possible.”
Hagiuda was positive about using the small module reactor, which is thought to be a next generation technology, saying that it is a viable option when prioritizing safety. In relation to the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, the minister said: “Nuclear power is not in itself evil. Rather, it is a matter of what kind of safety net we can deploy in a crisis.”
While saying that the rules concerning operational life of reactors “need to be followed for now,” Hagiuda said that he “will keep a close eye on the safety records” of reactors in the United States, where they are allowed to operate for up to 80 years.
Hagiuda hopes to finalize METI’s discussions on strategies for basic materials industries, such as steel and chemicals, that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, by spring. To reduce CO2 emitted by steel manufacturers, more corporations will have to introduce new methods of production, including methods using hydrogen instead of coal.
The Japanese government’s two-trillion-yen fund earmarked for promoting decarbonization-related research looks “off by a digit in comparison with global standards,” the minister said. “It must be increased.”