Nuclear limbo for climate ambitions

04 October 2013

Japan's climate goals remain as unclear as its energy policy. According to the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations it should resist setting targets until well into next year.

The country continues to import enormous extra quantities of LNG, oil and coal to compensate for the extraordinary shutdown of all its nuclear reactors. These switched off for mandatory maintenance outages and await permission to start again under a new more stringent set of requirements. While power shortages were managed, previous climate goals were put out of reach by a surge in carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector.

Among Japan's climate change goals had been for the electricity sector to reduce carbon intensity by 20% from 1990 levels, to 334 gCO2 per kWh on average over the five years from 2008 to 2012. However, the substitution of fossil fuels for nuclear power took the figure to 487 gCO2 per kWh, well over the target and a rise of 39% on pre-Fukushima levels, according to August data from the Federation of Electric Power Companies.

The Japanese government is now deciding what to do with emission reduction targets. The Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) wants to wait until the future of nuclear is more clear, while the Ministry of the Environment is undecided on whether to wait or set a goal achievable without nuclear.

Today the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) took METI's side and urged the government to avoid setting new goals until a new energy reality becomes concrete, under a policy to prioritise growth. Japan should not take any goals for 2020 to the next round of climate talks, the COP19 meeting in November, it said.

The Keidanren said that 'prevention of global warming is an important issue for all humanity...' while it is 'necessary to work actively on global warming measures while achieving a balance between environment and the economy'.

Restart applications have been submitted for 14 Japanese reactors, totalling 13,300 MWe of the 44,400 MWe capacity operational fleet. None of these is expected to be permitted to restart until early next year. 'The 2020 goal in Japan,' said Keidanren, should be determined next year, when the energy mix has become concrete.'

Meanwhile, the country continues to encourage take-up of other low-carbon energy sources. Data from the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) said a total of 3666 MWe of renewables had been approved since the push began shortly after the Fukushima accident in March 2011. Virtually all of this was solar (about 95%) and the majority was installed in the first financial year of the effort, April 2011 to March 2012.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News