Japan retains nuclear in energy mix

11 April 2014

Three years after the Fukushima accident, which led to calls for Japan to phase-out nuclear power, the country's cabinet has given its approval to an energy policy that recommends the restart of its idled nuclear reactors. 

The policy has been three years in the making, and is Japan's fourth Basic Energy Plan - previous plans were passed in 2003, 2007 and 2010. It is the first to be approved since the Fukushima nuclear accident of 2011 prompted the extended shutdown of the nuclear power plants on which the country had hitherto relied for some 30% of its electricity. A draft of the plan was published by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in February.

The latest plan, like its predecessors, recognises the necessity of energy security for the country which is poor in fossil fuel resources. The policy includes commitments to "clean energy" initiatives but places emphasis on ensuring stable and secure energy supplies.

Since its nuclear plants have been off line Japan has seen its fossil fuel imports and greenhouse gas emissions increase. Imports of LNG and thermal coal worth JPY 8.2 trillion ($80 billion) accounted for nearly 10% of total Japanese imports of JPY 81.3 trillion ($793 billion) in 2013.

Setting out policies for the production and supply of nuclear and other energy sources, including clean energy initiatives, the 78-page document designates nuclear energy as an important component of Japan's energy mix and looks to the restart of the country's reactors, while emphasising the priority of safety considerations in the restart and operation of any nuclear plants.

Nuclear power, according to METI, is a quasi-domestic source that gives stable power, operates inexpensively and has a low greenhouse gas profile. However, the ministry noted that nuclear must be developed with safety as a priority and with constant work on preparedness for emergency. Nuclear power is an 'important power source that supports the stability of the energy supply and demand structure' it said.

All of Japan's 48 operational nuclear reactors are currently off line pending clearance from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) under new regulations that came into force last July. To date, restart applications have been lodged for 17 of those reactors. The first reactors could restart later this year after completion of the NRA's review process.

Construction of Ohma 1 - a 1383 MWe ABWR - was suspended following the Fukushima accident, but was the first Japanese nuclear construction project to restart, although no start-up date has been given.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News