Nuclear key to Japan's climate plans

15 May 2007

Nuclear power is a key element in Japan's climate change mitigation strategy, a United Nations working group heard on 14 May.

Kazuhiko Hombu, deputy director general of Japan's Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI), explained his country's strategy to members of a working group of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Hombu said that Japan's energy use per unit of gross domestic product had been reduced by 37% since 1973, while the supply of low-carbon primary energy from nuclear and renewable sources had increased from 6% to 15%. However, the country aims to increase efficiency by 'at least' 30% more by 2030. He identified industry, and in particular the steel industry, as having potential for major efficiency gains.

The methods and technologies METI would expect to make the difference were: Increasing energy efficiency; Clean fossil fuel technology; New technologies such as biomass and solar power; and advanced nuclear power. Hombu said current light-water reactor technology would be used for the 'next generation' of nuclear power plants, while fast breeder reactors are envisaged beyond that. The strategy would see nuclear's share of electricity maintained at 'more than 30-40%' even after 2030.

Japan already has 55 nuclear power reactors, which provide about 30% of electricity. Two more are under construction and 11 are in the planning stage.

Hombu added that hydrogen would be used as an energy carrier in fuel cells. Japan has an advanced program to produce hydrogen on an industrial scale using nuclear heat. By 2015 it is planned to construct a hydrogen production system linked to the existing High-Temperature Test Reactor (HTTR), that would use heat at up to 950 degrees C to produce hydrogen at a rate of around 1000 l/h.

Hombu's comments were made at a round-table discussion on the Ad-hoc Working Group (AWG) on mitigation potentials of policies, measures and technologies. As part of the 13th Conference of Parties (COP-13), taking place in Bonn, Germany, on 15-18 May, the AWG is meant to provide a forum for discussion of the mitigation potential, effectiveness, efficiency, costs and benefits of current and future policies, measures and technologies. The AWG is open to industrialised and certain transition countries taking part in the UNFCCC - the so-called Annex 1 Parties.

Hombu's words echoed the recent conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which published a report on 4 May listing nuclear as a 'key mitigation technology'.

Further information

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

WNN: IPCC sees role for nuclear energy