Nuclear 'an important power source' for Japan

25 February 2014

Japan has a draft energy policy after almost three years of drift following the Fukushima accident. A summary today focused on security of supply and recommended the restart of idled reactors.

The draft released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) today noted the importance of energy supply to maintain Japan's industrial base, upon which its economy is founded. During the 1970s the country had to import 90% of its fuel, and the prolonged shutdown of nuclear reactors the situation has resulted in the same situation today. However, the rapid growth of new economies means that competition for the imported resources is greater than ever.

METI noted that the Middle East is the source of 83% of Japan's crude oil and 29% of its LNG, which has surged in use to substitue for shut-down nuclear plants. The cost disparency between prices Japan pays for LNG and those enjoyed in America raises the possibility of 'a significant impact to industrial structure.'

In the 1970s the roll-out of nuclear power plants gave Japan a secure source of reliable and low-emission electricity. Today the same is offered by the restart of the reactors idled for most of the time since the Fukushima Daiichi accident in March 2011.

Nuclear power is an 'important power source that supports the stability of the energy supply and demand structure'

Basic Energy Plan, METI

METI said it's goals were to establish a robust energy system which is 'multi-layered' and able to respond flexibly to price shocks. One factor in this will be to open up the country's regional supply monopolies so that new organisations could begin to supply power, for example local governments and small players in distributed generation. This competition is expected to increase the efficiency of the energy sector, foster new industries and give choice to consumers.

A range of energy sources are sure to figure in Japan's future, said METI. Natural gas, although imported, is flexible and so can compliment the intermittency of renewables. Coal is cheap, but its pollution works against emissions goals and represents a geopolitical risk. Renewables were given the most space and will be 'accelerated to full introduction': Solar is seen as useful to supply during peak demand; large scale deployment of wind could produce significant power, but this would come from northern areas and would require balancing with as-yet undeveloped storage systems; Japan has the third-largest geothermal resources in the world and this can be developed with local community support.

Nuclear power, according to METI, is a quasi-domestic source that gives stable power, operates inexpensively and has a low greenhouse gas profile. However, METI 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.

Applications are already with the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the restart of 17 reactors. The government's draft policy presents no new obstacle for this process, which will proceed according to the NRA's schedule and subject to its approval.

The draft is expected to be approved by the cabinet in March, and the first reactors could be back in operation this year.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News