Update on Japan’s Current Nuclear Energy Strategy

Recent developments in Japan’s struggle to balance its energy supply indicate that nuclear energy is set to start soon. The developments include a government determination that nuclear is an important base-load power, progress for the restart of Sendai reactors and the development of the Nuclear Risk Research Center, an organization that performs R&D of safety-enhancing technologies utilizing probabilistic risk assessment as well as examines and proposes effective problem-solving measures at individual plants, etc.

Japan’s Current Nuclear Energy Policy – Hirobumi Kayama

The Japanese government has determined that nuclear energy is an important base-load power source as a low carbon and quasi-domestic energy source. It will therefore maintain nuclear energy generation as a long-term stable source of energy for the country.

But questions about how much energy nuclear can contribute remain. The upcoming COP negotiations on Climate Change, this year in Paris, require that countries commit to a percentage decrease in CO2 emissions. Japan is now trying to figure out how much nuclear energy it will produce. The government is mum on this topic, but newspapers have speculated that nuclear could be anywhere from 15% to 25% of total production by 2030.

The other major nuclear energy policy news is progress on decommissioning Fukushima and aging power plants, as well as commitments to restart. The fuel removal process at Fukushima Daiichi has been a major success. Now that all fuel has been removed from Unit 4, consideration on how to best remove fuel from Unit 3 has begun. The Unit 3 spent fuel removal is making careful progress because of the amount of debris that is in the pool among the fuel rods. TEPCO again struggled to manage communications regarding a long-monitored radioactive leak. The leak made influence on negotiations with stakeholders such as local fishermen over whether to allow treated water (i.e. tritiated water) to be released in the ocean.

Japan’s nuclear industry is deciding which nuclear power plants to restart and which to mothball. In an effort to assist the proceedings, METI has both offered assistance to deepen understandings of residents and local governments regarding nuclear power plants, and for those power plants that cannot be restarted, METI has offered a system to level its accounting burden of premature decommissioning. It helped utilities’ decision on five power plants to be closed instead of pursuing high cost safety refurbishments. Four power plants have received the central and government approval to restart.

The new Nuclear Risk Research Center will perform R&D of safety technologies to assist utilities in building safety technologies that outperform even the high safety standards set by the NRA. These will include developing modern Probabilistic Risk Assessment methodologies and infrastructure, analyzing the impacts of external natural hazards and keeping in touch with the newest risk identification technologies.

The current progress indicates that nuclear energy is set to restart albeit. If the country is able to reduce the levels of fossil fuel-based power, Japan may be able to reduce costs and CO2 emissions reductions in the near term.