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What energy mix for 2030?

May 22, 2012


Gov't panel eyes 4 energy mix scenarios for 2030 with focus on future of nuclear power



A Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) panel is in final stages of discussions to compile and present four possible energy mix scenarios for 2030, ranging from zero reliance on nuclear power to no numerical targets for the country's dependence on atomic energy.

Because of conflicting views among panel members on the future role of nuclear power for the country, the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee under METI's Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy has found it difficult to single out a best possible energy mix for 2030.

Therefore, the panel is set to present four possible energy mix scenarios: 1) the ratio of nuclear power in relation to the nation's total power generation in 2030 should be reduced to zero at an early date from 26 percent in fiscal 2010; 2) the ratio should gradually be reduced to 15 percent; 3) the ratio should remain at certain levels between 20 and 25 percent; and 4) no numerical targets should be set. The panel is to compile a set of final proposals and present it to the government's Energy and Environment Council by the end of May so that it would be reflected in the country's basic energy plan due to be drafted before the upcoming summer.

The Fundamental Issues Subcommittee was set up last October to thoroughly review the country's basic energy plan, as public confidence in nuclear power was dented in the wake of the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The 25-member panel, which is comprised of experts and other figures from environmental nonprofit organizations (NPOs) and consumer groups, has since been mainly discussing the future vision of the energy mix, including the role of nuclear power.

The panel is headed by Akio Mimura, chairman of Nippon Steel Corp. It has been discussing the best possible energy mix of nuclear power, renewable energy and thermal power as of 2030. The panel has tried to single out a best possible energy mix from six proposals: the ratio of nuclear power to total power generation would be set at zero percent, 15 percent, 20 percent, 25 percent, 35 percent, and no numerical targets.

Proposed revisions to the country's Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law set a "40 year rule," which in principle requires a nuclear reactor to be decommissioned 40 years after its initial operation. The "15 percent" plan -- the ratio of nuclear power to the total power generation -- was not initially on the list of options. But the Resources and Energy Agency estimated in late April that if the "40 year reactor decommissioning rule" was applied, nuclear power would account for 13 to 17 percent of total power generation depending on the number and capacity of newly built nuclear reactors and their operational efficiency.

Therefore, the proposal for a "15 percent" ratio of nuclear power was added to the list. The "zero percent" proposal is aimed at reducing nuclear power dependence to zero earlier than what can be achieved under the "40 year rule."

Under the "20 percent" and "25 percent" proposals, certain levels of nuclear power will be maintained with the construction of new nuclear reactors. The panel is now discussing unifying the two proposals because the ratio of nuclear power to total power generation is to change depending on the degree of renewable energy being introduced.

Because many members of the panel believe that the "35 percent" proposal, which is to increase the ratio of nuclear power to more than 26 percent registered in fiscal 2010 prior to the Fukushima nuclear accident, will not be able to secure "public understanding," it is likely to be dropped from the list of options. On the proposal not to set numerical targets for nuclear power dependence, many panel members say something to the effect that, "It is the panel's responsibility to show the public what the government will do, and therefore it is difficult for the public to understand without numerical targets."

However, economists turned their back on the proposal to set numerical targets, with some saying, "If the government obliges (nuclear plant operators) to buy insurance against nuclear accidents, the higher the risks, the higher the insurance premiums will be. Unprofitable nuclear reactors will naturally be shut down." They argue that the ratio of nuclear power could change depending on the future energy policy. Because there are persistent calls for leaving it to market mechanisms, the proposal to set numerical targets is expected to remain on the list of options.

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