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Energy future: Govt's approach "outdated"

May 18, 2018


EDITORIAL: METI’s new energy agenda is still powered by old thinking




The government’s new energy policy agenda is wedded to an old, outdated approach, turning its back on growing domestic and overseas movements toward new policy goals.

It clearly suggests that the government is failing to see the big picture.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) on May 16 unveiled a draft of the government’s fifth basic energy plan intended for Cabinet approval this summer.

The draft says the government should maintain its traditional energy policy principles, making it clear that the new plan will be similar in many ways to the current one.

As in the past basic energy plans, nuclear and coal-based thermal power stations are described as “important base load power sources” despite the tough business situations for them.

In the world, radical structural changes are beginning to occur in energy supply and consumption. One important and growing trend is “decarbonization” of the energy mix, which means replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

Another is dispersed power generation, or widespread use of small-scale power-generation facilities combined with storage batteries and other necessary equipment for more efficient production and consumption of electricity. These trends will have far-reaching effects on society.

The draft energy plan raises some serious questions and concerns about the government’s vision for the energy future of the nation. If it adheres to the traditional energy policy, can the government make effective responses to the powerful, transformative changes occurring in the energy sector? Will this stance not cause Japan to fall behind key energy policy trends in the world?

We cannot support the proposed new basic energy plan.



The basic energy plan is supposed to define a medium- to long-term direction for the government’s energy policy and is reviewed periodically by the government.

Since 2014, when the current basic plan was endorsed by the Cabinet, myriads of significant changes concerning energy have taken place both at home and abroad.

Renewable energy has been spreading at an accelerating pace in both industrial and emerging countries due to a spurt of technological innovations and declining costs.

The Paris climate accord to stem global warming has been negotiated and put into effect, creating strong headwinds for coal-burning thermal power generation, which emits large amounts of greenhouse gasses. The costs of nuclear power generation have risen sharply mainly because of tighter safety standards introduced in many countries following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. As a result, production of electricity using atomic energy has been on the wane, especially in industrial nations.

Businesses have responded quickly to the changes. Business investment and technology development efforts in the sector have been focused mostly on such areas as renewable energy development, control on power transmission and consumption and power storage, creating huge new markets. Japan has been lagging behind these new trends.

But METI is refusing to face up to the changing reality.

Hiroshige Seko, the minister of economy, trade and industry, said, “We don’t think there has been any major technological change, and it is too early to alter the (energy policy) framework.” He could not be more grossly mistaken.

The biggest mistake METI has made is its decision to remain committed to the policy targets for the energy mix it set in 2015 under the current basic plan. The document says the government should step up its efforts to achieve the targets.

The targets are based on the assumption that nuclear power generation and renewable energy will account for around 20 percent each of Japan’s overall power production in fiscal 2030. Under the plan, about 30 nuclear reactors will be running then, far more than the number of offline reactors that have been restarted so far, eight.

Accomplishing the nuclear power targets will require extending the life of many aging reactors and building many new ones. Experts have criticized the targets as “unrealistic.”

Meanwhile, use of renewable energy sources has been growing steadily, provoking calls for raising the share target among lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps.

The vision for the nation’s energy future laid out in the draft new energy plan is badly out of synch with the major trends at home and abroad. It cannot serve as an effective road map for policy efforts in this era of great transition.

METI should first reconsider the energy source targets themselves. It needs to sharply lower the share of nuclear power generation while substantially raising that of clean energy.



There are also many problems with specific policy proposals.

As for atomic energy, the key issue, the draft contains two key principles--promoting reactor restarts to maintain nuclear power generation as the core power source and “lowering the nation’s dependence (on nuclear power) as much as possible.”

In reality, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has been pressing ahead with plans to bring offline reactors back on stream. The proposed new policy would allow the administration to continue pushing the nation gradually back to heavy dependence on nuclear power and making stopgap responses concerning the sticky issue of disposal of radioactive waste and the troubled nuclear fuel recycling program.

The Abe administration should confront the harsh realities concerning nuclear power generation, including the fact that a majority of the people are opposed to reactor restarts.

It should totally abandon its efforts to keep the nation dependent on atomic energy while pulling the wool over the people’s eyes.

If its new energy policy calls for lowering the nation’s dependence on nuclear power, the government is responsible to swiftly work out specific plans to achieve the goal.

METI has proposed to turn clean energy into a “mainstay power source” with good reason. As specific measures to do so, however, the document only refers to ideas that have already been discussed.

The ministry needs to plan an effective “next move” to deal with obstacles to promoting renewable energy, including higher costs than in many other countries.

The past basic energy plans were all focused on “stable supply” and designed to preserve the continuity of the policy traditions.

But this stance has led to such serious evils as denials of obvious failures and absurdities, including the nuclear fuel recycling debacle, and rigidities like adamant refusal to change course.

With regard to the development of the new plan, METI decided to maintain the policy “framework” intact at an early stage, limiting the scope of debate.

The ministry has remained skeptical about the viability of renewable power generation, which is in the process of evolution, while assigning a major role to both nuclear power and coal thermal generation despite the raft of problems plaguing them. This stance seems to be a sign of inertia and inability to make gutsy decisions of the organization.



It is no doubt difficult to foresee the future. That makes multifaceted and transparency policy debate all the more important.

The Foreign Ministry has reportedly lobbied METI to sharply raise the target share for alternative energy sources in unofficial negotiations.

The Environment Ministry is critical of METI’s proposal to make expansive use of coal.

Clearly, exhaustive, cross-ministry debate on the nation’s energy future is in order.

Politicians also have a crucial role to play. Legally, the Diet has no power to reject the government’s basic energy plan. The legislature is only briefed on the plan after the government decides on it.

But the Diet needs to get more actively involved in the process. It should take such steps as seeking opinions from experts and holding intensive discussions on related issues.

The government has a duty to present a viable future vision for the nation’s energy supply system, which is part of vital infrastructure for social activities and people’s lives, and chart a course toward that vision. Then it needs to thrash out concrete policy measures to realize the vision.

Unless it sends out convincing messages about a sustainable energy future for the nation, the government cannot open up a new age of energy.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 18


May 16, 2018                                  


Japan Announces Ambitious Plans For 20%-22% Nuclear Share By 2030




Policies & Politics

16 May (NucNet): Japan’s government is committed to nuclear power accounting for at least one-fifth of the nation’s electricity supply in fiscal year 2030, calling it an “important baseload energy source”, according to a draft proposal.

For the first time, the government will specify the 20%-22% ratio in its basic energy plan. The draft was due to be presented today to an advisory panel with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the nuclear industry.

The draft says the government will “further intensify efforts to achieve the target” and continue to push for nuclear fuel cycle policy in tandem with the export of nuclear technology.

The basic energy plan sets the government’s mid- and long-term energy policy and is reviewed roughly every three years.

The government expects to gain Cabinet approval for the plan, the fifth of a series, this summer. The last one, approved by the Cabinet in 2014 and the first after the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident, did not mention the breakdown of each energy source, although it described nuclear power as an “important baseload energy source.”

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum said about 30 reactors must be brought back online to meet the 20%-22% target.

The goal is achievable, according to the government, if existing reactors are allowed to operate for 60 years, beyond the 40-year lifespan in place under stringent regulations implemented after Fukushima-Daiichi.

Japan shut down all 42 commercial nuclear reactors after the accident. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the country’s nuclear share in 2017 was about 3.6%. Before Fukushima, Japan generated about 30% of its electricity from nuclear and planned to increase that to 40%.

Last week the Ohi-4 nuclear reactor unit in Fukui Prefecture was connected to the grid as it approaches commercial operation. Ohi-4 will become the eighth nuclear plant at five sites to be restarted under new regulatory standards introduced following Fukushima-Daiichi.


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