As the world faces rising energy concerns amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the issue at stake is how Japan will strike a balance between stable power supply and decarbonization efforts. Yet the Japanese political parties’ campaign pledges for the July 10 House of Councillors election have failed to map out a strategy for this compelling agenda.
As Japan endures a sweltering summer, electric supply and demand are under strain. The government is asking households and businesses to save energy, while restarting aging thermal power plants to ease the power crunch.
Germany and the Netherlands, which are breaking away from their dependence on Russia for energy resources, have decided to temporarily boost output from coal-fired thermal power generation.
If countries turn to fossil fuels without debate, however, the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 to counter global warming will be far off.
It is predicted that a rise in global temperatures of over 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will trigger serious damage such as major disasters and food shortages. The world has already seen a 1.1-degree C increase, leaving humanity no time to waste.
Amid these circumstances, there are active discussions in Japan about restarting nuclear power plants that are free of greenhouse gas emissions.
In its election platform, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party advocates “maximum utilization” of nuclear power stations whose safety measures have cleared screenings. Calls for “lowering dependence” on atomic power, which had appeared in the party’s previous campaign promises since the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, are nowhere to be found, indicating that the party is turning back to nuclear power dependence. The opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and Democratic Party for the People are taking similar positions.
However, is nuclear power a realistic option?
In the wake of the Fukushima meltdown, Japan has experienced enormous damage from radioactive contamination. No solution has been found for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, while spending to ensure the safety of nuclear plants is snowballing, pushing up power generation costs.
What is sought after is a scenario for increasing renewable energy while curbing the use of fossil fuels.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party have included in their respective election pledges policies for covering all power supply with renewables by 2050.
However, an environment for the effective use of renewable energy is not yet in place, making it difficult for the resource alone to ensure stable power supply. Initiatives to make renewables the main source of power must be steadily pushed forward, including the development of high-performance storage batteries.
It is the role of politicians to protect the lives and livelihoods of people. Each political party in Japan has a responsibility to present steps to address the current power shortage and a long-term strategy for a carbon-free society.