Japan is entering a new phase in its nuclear energy strategy, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordering Wednesday the development and construction of next-generation nuclear power plants.
This marks a major shift from the country’s post-Fukushima policy of backing away from the building of new nuclear power plants. The move would help Japan reduce its reliance on energy imports amid a global energy crunch and avoid strains on a power grid that has been pushed to its limit this summer.
Kishida’s government aims to secure electric power in the medium to long term with a plan to restart up to 17 nuclear power plants beginning in the summer of 2023.
The prime minister believes the plan will address structural challenges facing Japan, such as electricity shortages and decarbonization delays, especially as it aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Detailed measures and a timeline for implementation will be outlined by the government by the end of the year.
The main objective going forward from 2030 will be to consider construction of next-generation nuclear power plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has already compiled a draft on such plants — specifically safer, light water reactors — with plans to start commercial operation in the 2030s.
Until now Japan has avoided building new nuclear power plants and upgrading existing facilities. If any new plants are built, they would be the first since the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami led to meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Kishida will also seek to extend the operating period of existing nuclear power plants. Current law stipulates a 40- to 60-year operating life, after which reactors are decommissioned.
Some nuclear power facilities, such as reactors at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari plant, have taken nearly 10 years to be approved for operation. This has the government exploring measures to extend the life of nuclear power plants, perhaps by subtracting the time spent on safety reviews from actual operating life.
The government will also study measures to enable electric utilities to more easily figure out their prospects for nuclear power generation. In addition, the government will discuss how to reinforce programs to settle pending problems such as the disposal of high-level nuclear waste.
A plan calls for suspended reactors to be reactivated to avoid expected power shortages this winter and next year.
In July, Kishida announced a plan to increase the number of activated nuclear reactors to up to nine so they can help meet energy demand this coming winter. The plan envisions the midterm use of 10 reactors, with the number increasing to 17 by next summer.
Japan has 33 reactors, and electric power companies have asked the Nuclear Regulation Authority to approve the reactivation of 25. Already, 17 have cleared the NRA’s safety review. Although 10 of the 17 reactors were reactivated after local consent was received, only six remain in operation.
Seven reactors have yet to be reactivated despite passing the NRA’s safety inspection. To prepare for their resumption by next summer and thereafter, the government is taking the initiative to implement safety measures and negotiate with local municipalities, whose consent is needed.
The government envisages reactivating seven reactors: the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, the Tokai-2 reactor of The Japan Atomic Power, the No. 2 reactor at the Onagawa nuclear plant of Tohoku Electric Power, the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant of Kansai Electric Power and the No. 2 reactor at the Shimane nuclear plant of Chugoku Electric Power.
Prospects for restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant remain unclear due to inadequate anti-terrorism measures.
Many experts do not see a smooth road ahead for the construction of new plants and the restarting of old ones, even with the prime minister’s change in policy.
In campaigning for July’s upper house election, most opposition parties and junior ruling coalition partner Komeito called for eventually realizing a society not dependent on nuclear energy. The party is also cautious about building new plants.
Even with a government decision to construct new plants, it remains unclear whether power companies will want to make such investments under the current political circumstances.
Source: Nikkei Asia