Taking a Closer Look at Japan’s Nuclear Energy Policy

On June 16, 2015, Mr. Hirobumi Kayama addressed the quarterly meeting of the U.S.-Japan Roundtable with an update on Japan’s current nuclear energy policy. His presentation was thorough and extremely informative. Forum on Energy has compiled a quick, at-a-glance summary of the five most salient points from his address.

1) The economic argument for continuing nuclear in Japan is strong.

Mr. Kayama outlined the following prices for Japanese power generation. 

  • Nuclear:   ¥10.1/kWh
  • Coal:        ¥12.3/kWh
  • Wind:       ¥21.6/kWh
  • Crude oil: ¥30.6/kWh

He asserted that, regardless of the persistently-low public opinion about nuclear following the Fukushima disaster, nuclear is still the best energy source for Japan with regard to economic efficiency.

2) Shutting down nuclear power plants (NPPs) post-Fukushima has had significant adverse effects.

In particular, Mr. Kayama outlined the effects on the following:

  • Energy Security: Japan now imports 88% of total power generation; it used to import 61% before the earthquake (nuclear is considered a quasi-domestic source).
  • Economy: Cost of fuel has increased, and the price of electricity has gone up approximately 20% on average 
  • Climate Change: Shutting down nuclear has increased greenhouse gas emissions by about 110 million tons, or approximately 9%.

3) Progress is being made in the Fukushima recovery efforts.

Mr. Kayama pointed out that the Japanese government has taken a more active role in recent months to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi NPPs, and to enact countermeasures to the contaminated water issue. The following chart provides a comprehensive timeline of what has been achieved so far in the cleanup, and where authorities seek to go from here. Mr. Kayama highlighted in particular the progress made in Unit 4, where removal of the spent fuel is already complete. 

Microsoft PowerPoint - 150616 Japan's Current Nuclear Energy Pol

4) It is helpful to understand and visualize the existing nuclear market in Japan.

Mr. Kayama provided a map that thoroughly represents the existing reactors in Japan, with information such as age, reactor type, and current review status.

Microsoft PowerPoint - 150616 Japan's Current Nuclear Energy Pol

5) Nuclear operators face very specific challenges.

These challenges were summarized as the following:

  • Proper risk management, starting at the top levels of management
  • Proper risk communication with stakeholders, especially nearby residents
  • Thorough site-specific risk assessments
  • Capable on-site operators with thorough understanding of the facility and all processes, able to take action should unforeseen accidents occur

The ultimate takeaway of Mr. Kayama’s presentation was that while Japan faces significant challenges, it is intent on reentering the market. To achieve this end, government and industry leaders are doing all they can to institute new and improved standards and practices, working toward a timely and safe nuclear restart.