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Japan plans shift toward renewable energy, planning for first time to cut plutonium stockpile

Kyodo, Staff Report

Japan will shift further toward renewable energy and cut dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power, according to the country’s energy plan approved Tuesday by the Cabinet.

Ahead of the automatic July renewal of the U.S.-Japan agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the plan for a medium- to long-term energy policy also mentioned that Japan will work to reduce its plutonium stockpile for the first time.

The increased focus on renewables under the 2015 Paris climate accord underscores the nation’s daunting challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically in the years ahead.

The government, which updates the energy plan roughly every three years, kept its goals the same for its mix of energy sources in fiscal 2030 but did not give specific numbers for fiscal 2050 — the year when it has to clear its specific commitment in fighting global warming.

Toward 2030, the government aims to have renewables account for 22 to 24 percent, fossil fuels 56 percent and nuclear power 20 to 22 percent of the country’s electricity generation, the energy plan showed.

With its 2016 energy self-sufficiency ratio below 10 percent, resource-poor Japan needs to secure stable energy supplies for economic activity and national security while also ensuring the safety of nuclear power generation following the 2011 Fukushima accident.

The country also needs to accelerate efforts to fight global warming, now that it has set the goal of achieving an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions in fiscal 2050 from 2013 levels.

The energy plan calls for supporting the development of a sustainable market for renewables, such as solar, wind and geothermal power, and encourages the use of hydrogen.

Placing a priority on safety, the nation will cut dependence on nuclear power generation “as much as possible,” the energy plan said.

Still, it also acknowledged that nuclear power is one of the viable choices to achieve a shift away from using coal and other fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the country’s nuclear power plants have been taken offline since the Fukushima disaster. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to restart plants that have cleared safety checks.

The Japan-U.S. nuclear pact currently enables Japan to continue its spent-fuel reprocessing program for 30 years to July 2018.

Spent fuel from nuclear reactors is reprocessed to extract uranium and plutonium, which is then recycled into fuel called mixed oxide, or MOX, for use in fast-breeder reactors or conventional nuclear reactors.

In a June 21st open letter to International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano that expressed concern about the management of plutonium stocks, three anti-nuclear groups said efforts to restart nuclear reactors, especially those that use MOX fuel, to meet the long-term energy goal for nuclear power were unrealistic.

“Our analysis over recent years, and to the present, indicates that Japan will fail to meet its nuclear restart target of 30 gigawatts by 2030 by a wide margin. Many more nuclear reactors are likely to be decommissioned” in the coming years joining the 17 that have been declared such since 2011, said a letter jointly signed by Hideyuki Ban, co-director of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, Aileen Mioko Smith, director, Green Action, and Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany.

“In addition to the four reactors that have resumed operation with partial MOX fuel cores, it is uncertain how many of the remaining six reactors that have received MOX approval will actually restart during the next 10 years. They are all confronted with multiple challenges, including seismic faults, as well as legal and political opposition,” the letter added.