The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s final version of a draft energy report reinforces the role of nuclear power in the country’s future, but falls short of setting specific goals for renewable energy use.
The policy describes nuclear power as “an important base-load energy source,” according to a 78-page draft obtained by Bloomberg News. The plan, the first update to the nation’s energy policy since the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis started, is expected to be approved as early as Friday, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato has said.
The plan represents a compromise for coalition partner New Komeito, which had pushed for the inclusion of specific targets for renewable energy. The party pledged during the 2012 election campaign that clean energy would provide 30 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030, or 35 percent if hydropower were included.
The new policy says the country will aim to introduce clean energy at levels that “further” exceed previously announced targets. The ruling parties earlier sought to say renewable energy should “significantly” exceed old targets.
A plan published in 2010 by a previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan envisioned the country getting about 20 percent of its electricity from clean energy and 53 percent from nuclear power by 2030.
The new policy was approved by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito last week, despite deep divisions over nuclear energy. Sixty-nine percent of respondents to a poll last month published by the Tokyo Shimbun said nuclear power should be phased out.
Officials with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry weren’t available for comment.
“We will leave behind the energy strategy drawn up before the earthquake and start from scratch,” says the draft policy to be considered by the Cabinet.
To promote inter-ministerial cooperation on clean energy issues, the government will set up a council of ministers, according to the policy.
While the policy describes Japan’s intention to reduce nuclear reliance, it also says reactors will be restarted once their safety is confirmed. “We will reduce our dependency on nuclear as much as possible,” the final draft says.
New Komeito earlier sought to end reliance on nuclear power, a position shared by the DPJ administration, which was voted out of power in December 2012.
The plan also calls coal an important base-load power source, saying it is economical and supply is stable although it emits large amounts of greenhouse gas. “We will push through further technology development to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving power generation efficiency” of coal, the report says.
“The government draft does not at all mention changes that are happening in the world” regarding coal, Teruyuki Ohno, executive director of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, wrote on March 20 in a column posted on the group’s website, referring to an earlier version of the policy.
He said major international banks such as the World Bank are announcing plans not to support coal projects following a U.S. policy not to give loans for coal-fired plants in developing countries. “The draft instead features plans to export coal technology abroad.”
Japan will set its energy mix — targets for various energy types — “soon” taking into account reactor restarts and clean energy installations, the policy says.
Nuclear plants provided more than a quarter of Japan’s electricity before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima plant. The nation’s 48 operable commercial reactors have since been idled for maintenance or safety checks. The country has been nuclear-free since September 2013.
Eight regional utilities including, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant, have applied for safety checks for some of their reactors.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said in March that it would expedite safety checks on two of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s reactors, raising the prospect that some nuclear power generation may be resumed ahead of peak power demand in summer.
The DPJ government set a target of phasing out nuclear energy by the end of the 2030s in a policy set in September 2012, but it was never enacted.
The country currently gets 1.6 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar, with hydropower providing a further 8.4 percent.