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Nuclear energy policy emerges as key difference between Abe and Koike

JIJI

Nuclear power is emerging as a key policy issue ahead of the Oct. 22 Lower House election, with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike saying her new party will aim to phase it out.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party view nuclear power as a stable source of energy and want to put more of the nation’s idled reactors back online.

But Koike’s Kibo no To (Party of Hope) is exploring a policy that would eventually eliminate the use of nuclear energy.

“We’ll examine how to bring down the reliance to zero by 2030,” Koike told a news conference on Thursday.

Current government targets call for an energy mix in which nuclear power accounts for about 22 percent. The plan also calls for the use of liquefied natural gas (27 percent), coal (26 percent) and renewable energy (22-24 percent).

LNG is costly and coal leads to massive carbon dioxide emissions. To phase out nuclear power, the nation would need to significantly boost thermal power generation.

Meanwhile, the use of renewable energy is growing, led by solar, after the introduction of a feed-in tariff system in 2012. The sector’s share in the energy mix is believed to have reached 15 percent.

But concerns that phasing out nuclear would lead to a rapid increase in the cost of renewable energy makes the policy a tough sell.

“You can easily win votes by promising a zero nuclear policy, as energy prices are low at present,” said Tokyo University of Science professor Takeo Kikkawa. “But I don’t see any seriousness in such a policy.”

Kikkawa said a proper road map aimed at ending the use of nuclear energy requires thinking about future crude oil price movements and clear measures for the disposal of radioactive waste.