There has been a major shift in the Japanese government’s nuclear power and energy policy. It will hopefully clear the way for the government to ensure a stable supply of electricity using nuclear power.
At a meeting of the Green Transformation Implementation Council on August 24, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed his government to consider the development and construction of next-generation nuclear plants.
Until now, the Japanese government had reiterated its position that it did not intend to construct new nuclear plants or replace old ones, so Kishida’s announcement of new-generation power plants signals a major policy shift — and the decision is a welcome one.
In response to the severe power crunch in Japan, the Prime Minister also expressed his intention to restart seven existing nuclear plants from 2023 onward. The early resumption of these plants is essential for the supply of electricity to eastern Japan.
For plants that have passed safety inspections by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority but have yet to receive approval from the local communities, the government must take the initiative to seek their understanding and consent.
Key Challenges: Carbon Neutrality, Energy, Safety
The Green Transformation Council identified key challenges to decarbonization and other issues that need to be addressed to achieve carbon neutrality, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, by 2050. The construction of next-generation nuclear plants was brought closer to reality when Kishida raised it as a mid-term objective going forward from 2030.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry had just compiled a development plan for next-generation nuclear plants with enhanced safety.
But the sixth Strategic Energy Plan, approved by the Cabinet in 2021, did not include the construction of nuclear plants. The clear shift in policy should open the way for the development of next-generation nuclear plants for practical use.
East Japan in Dire Need of Power
The government also plans to restart seven additional nuclear plants from 2023 onward. These include No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, and Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture. But the local communities have yet to give their consent.
So far, 10 nuclear power plants have been restarted after passing the safety review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
However, all 10 of these plants are located in western Japan. Without any nuclear plants in operation, eastern Japan is experiencing a serious electricity shortage. The government needs to take the lead in restarting the additional reactors as soon as possible to ensure a stable supply of electricity to this region.
Kishida also ordered the consideration of extending the operating period of existing nuclear power plants. Currently, nuclear plants in Japan are generally allowed to run for 40 years, with a 20-year extension permitted in some cases. This period may be extended to 60 years or longer under the proposals under consideration.
The United States has already approved its nuclear plants to run for up to 80 years.
The Japanese government, while also ensuring its people’s safety, must also demonstrate flexibility and adaptability.
- Japan Eyes Developing Next Generation Nuclear Plants: Things to Know
- EDITORIAL | Restart Nuclear Plants to Tackle Energy Crisis and Achieve Decarbonization
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(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun