The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has redrafted the nation’s national long-term energy plan by adding words that place more emphasis on nuclear power, it was learned Friday.
Nuclear power is an “important base-load power source that serves as a foundation” for the stability of Japan’s energy supply, the new draft says. The previous version just said it is an “important base-load power source.”
Base-load power refers to sources of electricity that are cheap, stable and usable on a continuous basis.
The ministry is expected to present the revised draft to a panel tasked with devising the Basic Energy Plan. The panel is likely to endorse the draft because many of its members are supportive of nuclear power despite the weaknesses in handling it that were laid bare by the triple core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in 2011, which was termed a “man-made disaster” that has cost trillions in damage and will cost trillions more in compensation, decontamination and cleanup.
The revised draft also promotes the reactivation of the reactors since idled by writing in detail about the negative impact of rising electricity prices driven by the growing cost of importing fuel for thermal power generation to offset the loss of atomic power.
Japan’s imports of liquefied natural gas jumped to ¥6 trillion in 2012 compared with ¥3.5 trillion in 2010. The economy also logged its first annual trade deficit in 31 years in 2011.
The revised draft states that higher electricity rates are causing companies to transfer production abroad and that some have been forced to go out of business. But it doesn’t discuss the government’s hamstrung effort to expose Japan’s regional power monopolies to real competition and liberalize the electricity market to welcome generators of renewable energy. New entrants only accounted for about 3.6 percent of the power sold to large-lot clients in fiscal 2011 as legacy generators charged them exorbitant fees for using the existing power grid.
The government is legally required to review the Basic Energy Plan at least every three years by taking into consideration changes in the energy situation. The 2010 plan aimed to boost Japan’s reliance on nuclear power to some 50 percent of its energy needs in 2030 from around 30 percent — the assumed level before the Fukushima catastrophe.
Last year, the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, now the main opposition party, decided on what it called an “energy strategy” of aiming to phase out nuclear power, but the content raised hackles, and the government didn’t go so far as revising the 2010 Basic Energy Plan that was expected to stipulate detailed measures to bring the strategy to fruition.
Coal, LNG use hits record
The regional power companies burned a record amount of coal and liquefied natural gas for November as they relied on the fossil fuels to make up for lost output from offline nuclear reactors.
The 10 electricity utilities increased their use of LNG by 1.9 percent to 4.6 million metric tons, the biggest volume ever for a November, according to data from the Federation of Electric Power Companies.
Coal consumption climbed 20.5 percent to 4.78 million tons, a record for the month, according to the industry group, which started compiling the data in 1972.
All 50 of Japan’s reactors are shut pending safety reviews by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. With no dates set for restarting the units, utilities will need to rely on thermal power to meet electricity demand.
Nuclear energy accounted for 29.2 percent of all electricity in Japan in the fiscal year that ended March in 2010, before the Fukushima nuclear crisis led to the shutdown of all reactors. Power plants using LNG, coal and crude provided more than 60 percent, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in an annual report published in June 2010.
Last fiscal year, atomic power generated about 2 percent of the country’s total electricity, according to METI data.
The utilities, consisting of the 10 regional monopolies, generated 54.15 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity using thermal power in November, up 2.1 percent from a year earlier, the industry group said in a statement Friday.
The firms had no output from nuclear stations after Kansai Electric Power Co. shut two reactors at its Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture in September for maintenance.