Japan’s continued commitment to nuclear energy will be important in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions and also in improving nuclear safety on a global scale, the head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering said Saturday.

“Japan is still the third-largest economy in the world and is a major emitter, and of course a larger emitter (of carbon) today than it was four years ago,” professor Richard Lester told reporters in Tokyo.

Although the population is decreasing and the nation is trying to increase the use of renewable energies like solar and wind, “there is, in my judgment, almost no likelihood that Japan will be able to achieve the kinds of reductions in carbon emissions that the world will look to,” said Lester, who was in Japan to visit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Due to the Fukushima No. 1 disaster, all of the nation’s reactors are currently idled and utilities have boosted thermal power generation to cover the shortfall. As a result, the amount of Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions increased to around 1.39 billion tons in fiscal 2013 from roughly 1.25 billion tons in fiscal 2010.

The government’s energy policy drafted in light of the nuclear crisis says that it aims to increase the use of renewable energy sources and decrease nuclear power as much as possible. Public debate in Japan tends to focus on the choice between nuclear and renewable energy, but Lester stressed that both sources are essential.

“I think the central point that needs to be made here is that Japan and the U.S. and other societies will need much more of both, much more nuclear, much more renewables,” he said.

Lester also said Japan will play an important role in strengthening nuclear safety in the international community, and that, therefore, the government’s nuclear policy is important not only to the nation, but also to the rest of the world.

He said more countries will introduce nuclear energy in the next couple of decades and that there must be increased global efforts to ensure such nations manage atomic power plants safely, for instance by establishing stronger international safety organizations.

Regarding Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which he visited on Friday, Lester said before Tokyo Electric Power Co. can restart the plant, it must be determined whether technical and managerial changes have been effectively implemented and whether those changes have had a positive effect on the public’s trust.

He noted safety measures at the plant appear to have been beefed up in the wake of a major earthquake in 2007 and the Fukushima crisis in 2011.

Lester said that while he could not make a comprehensive assessment based on a one-day visit, he did get the impression that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa workers understand the importance of their work and morale there is high.

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