Shift away from coal-fired thermal power proving tough

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Since the 2011 accident, the restart of nuclear power plants, which the government considers a principal source of electricity generation, has not advanced.

Wednesday marked nine years since the Great East Japan Earthquake that led to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. Since that 2011 accident, the restart of nuclear power plants, which the government considers a principal source of electricity generation, has not advanced.
 Making up for the energy void created are coal-fired thermal power plants, which have come under a barrage of criticism from the international community for their large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
 The nation’s chaotic energy policies are still far from settled.
 “Non-fossil fuel energy sources, including nuclear power, have become more and more important,” Taizo Takahashi, commissioner of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, said at the Miyagi prefectural government office in Sendai on March 2.
 “We would like to move ahead with the restart [of the nuclear power plant] in line with the government’s conventional policy,” he said while bowing his head to Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai. 
 Takahashi was seeking Murai’s consent on the restart of the No. 2 reactor of the Onagawa nuclear power plant in the prefecture by Tohoku Electric Power Co. The reactor passed the safety examination of the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Feb. 26.
 If the restart is realized, it will mark the first time for a nuclear power plant to be restarted in the Tohoku region since the 2011 disaster.
 Following the disaster, it has become customary for high-ranking central government officials to visit prefectural governors and beg them to allow the restart of nuclear power plants. The central government used to leave that to the power companies, but now there is a sense of alarm in the government that such a conventional stance would make it difficult for a nuclear power plant to get restarted.
 At present, there are 33 nuclear reactors in Japan, excluding those whose decommissioning has been decided. 
The number of reactors that have resumed operations is still at nine.
 There have been a succession of cases in which reactors that have passed the NRA’s safety examination have been unable to be restarted. This has been due to a failure to win local approval, or because those power plants had to suspend operations because of a delay in renovating facilities to implement counterterrorism measures.
 Casting a shadow over the situation and adding to the public distrust of nuclear power plants is the scandal in which senior officials of Kansai Electric Power Co. and others received cash and other presents from a former deputy mayor, now deceased, of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, where a nuclear power plant is located.
 According to the government’s energy mix in which it has set targets for the composition of energy sources for fiscal 2030, the ratio of nuclear power is projected at 20 percent to 22 percent. The government remains far from such a target since about 30 reactors need to be in operation to realize it. National debates on the issue have not made progress.
 Japan has increased the proportion of thermal power plants since the 2011 quake. While the country currently relies on thermal power for about 80 percent of its power supply, fuel prices fluctuate in line with the market conditions of crude oil and so forth, straining the operations of power companies. This also has effects reflected in electricity charges.
 Although the utilization of renewable energy such as photovoltaic power generation advances, the generation of this energy is affected by climate conditions, making it difficult to consider it a stable power source.
 Japan, which even now plans to construct about 20 coal-fired thermal power plants, has been subject to criticism from the international community taking a harsh view of global warming.
 At the COP25 U.N. climate change summit held last December in Madrid, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi came under fire, leaving the strong impression that Japan’s degree of interest in thermal power generation is far different from that of the rest of the world.
 The government’s Council on Investments for the Future, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, decided on March 5 to establish a new council to map out a long-term strategy on such matters as future energy composition. Whether a fundamental and substantial discussion can be made for depicting a future vision of the nation’s energy use will be watched.