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LDP proposes future energy policy heavy on nuclear power

Kyodo

Ruling party lawmakers proposed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday that Japan generate around 60 percent of its electricity from stable sources, a figure that meets international standards but also suggests continued reliance on nuclear power.

The share of “base-load” power sources, which can generate electricity day and night at low cost and include coal and hydroelectricity, has fallen to around 40 percent thanks to the shutdown of all nuclear reactors since the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Under the proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party, nuclear power would take up a share of at least 20 percentage points among the various sources.

The ratio can’t be much lower than the pre-crisis level of around 30 percentage points, critics say, even as Abe’s administration has pledged to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear power as much as possible.

The Abe administration has been discussing the future national energy mix, or the proportion of electricity to be generated by various sources. The administration and the party plan to come up with the specific percentages “by the end of April,” senior LDP lawmaker Fukushiro Nukaga told reporters after meeting with Abe.

Abe, who is pressing for the restart of nuclear reactors, said at the outset of the meeting he will consider the best energy mix by taking into account “the need to lower electricity prices” and “curbing greenhouse gas emissions to fulfill our responsibility” to the international community.

Electricity prices have risen as utilities have been pinched by the high cost of importing fuel to boost thermal power generation to make up for the reactor shutdowns.

In 2013, nuclear power accounted for only 1 percentage point, coal-fired thermal power 30 percentage points, and hydro and geothermal energy a combined 9 percentage points.

If these sources are to rise back to 60 percent, it means the nuclear share would likely have to top 20 percentage points. This is because it would be difficult to boost coal-based power significantly as it is a heave polluter, while raising hydroelectric and geothermal power would take an extremely long time.

In its basic energy policy adopted last April, the administration also vowed to increase the use of wind, solar and other clean, renewable energy as much as possible. But at the same time it defined nuclear power as an “important base-load power source.”

The Environment Ministry unveiled an estimate last Friday that it would be possible to cover up to 35 percent of the total power supply with clean energy in 2030 if measures are taken to enhance the national grid and utilize new technologies.

But Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoichi Miyazawa, who oversees the power sector, told a news conference Tuesday that the Environment Ministry’s estimate “does not sufficiently consider the feasibility (of introducing more renewable energy).”

The estimate “can’t be used as the basis for the energy mix,” said Miyazawa, suggesting the percentage of clean energy will be much lower.