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Japan aims to abandon nuclear power by 2030s

Reuters, 14 September 2012

Japan's government said it intends to stop using nuclear power by the 2030s,
marking a major shift from policy goals set before last year's Fukushima
disaster that sought to increase the share of atomic energy to more than half of
electricity supply.

Japan joins countries such as Germany and Switzerland in
turning away from nuclear power after last year's earthquake unleashed a tsunami
that swamped the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing the worst nuclear crisis since
Chernobyl in 1986. Japan was the third-biggest user of atomic energy before the
disaster.

In abandoning atomic power, Japan aims to triple the share of
renewable power to 30 percent of its energy mix, but will remain a top importer
of oil, coal and gas for the foreseeable future.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's unpopular government, which could face an
election this year, had faced intense lobbying from industries to maintain
atomic energy and also concerns from its major ally, the United States, which
supplied it with nuclear technology in the 1950s.

"This is a strategy to create a new future," a policy statement said, after
key ministers finalized the decision on Friday. "It is not pie in the sky. It is
a practical strategy."

All but two of Japan's nuclear 50 reactors are idled for safety checks and
the government plans to allow restarts of units taken off line after the
disaster if they are deemed safe by a new atomic regulator.

Japan's growing anti-nuclear movement, which wants an immediate end to the
use of atomic power, is certain to oppose any such proposal to secure
electricity supplies by restarting reactors.

By applying a strict 40-year limit on the lifetime of reactors, most will be
shut down by the 2030s.

LNG, COAL AND OIL IMPORTS

A shift from nuclear means Japan should remain the world's biggest importer
of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and third-largest purchaser of oil to feed its
power stations. The company is also a major importer of coal and is likely to
increase reliance on it.

The government estimated last week it will need to spend about 3.1 trillion
yen ($40.03 billion) more on fuel imports a year if it abandons nuclear power
immediately.

Japan's hunger for energy has helped sustain an investment boom in gas
projects from Australia to new export
terminals in the U.S., where a shale gas revolution is in full swing. LNG prices
also soared earlier this year as Japan scoured the world for supplies.

The new policy was adopted 18 months after the earthquake and tsunami
devastated Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi plant, triggering
meltdowns, spewing radiation and forcing some 160,000 people to flee.

Tomoko Abe, an opposition lawmaker who heads a non-partisan group seeking to
abandon atomic power, told Reuters the new strategy was lacking in key
details.

"More than (a promise to) exit nuclear power in the 2030s, which is a long
way away, what the people want to know is what they are going to do about
restarting reactors," Abe said.

The government's strategy calls for a push to reduce energy consumption
through efficiency and other measures to at least 10 percent less than 2010
levels.

Noda's decision is unlikely to resolve fierce debate over whether reducing
atomic power's role will do more harm or good to the economy. Nuclear power
provided 30 percent of Japan's electricity before the Fukushima disaster
crippled the sector.

And with Noda's Democratic Party expected to lose the general election, there
is no guarantee that the next government would stand by the policy.

COSTS OF ABANDONING NUCLEAR POWER

Japan's powerful business lobbies also argue that exiting nuclear energy in
favor of fossil fuels and renewable sources such as solar and wind power will
boost electricity prices, making industry uncompetitive and complicating efforts
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The shift also threatens the financial viability of Japan's nuclear
operators, which will be saddled with high decommissioning costs.

"To consider such an energy policy runs counter to a growth strategy,"
Hiromasa Yonekura, the chairman of the biggest business lobby, told
reporters.

Anti-nuclear advocates counter that warnings of economic damage are
exaggerated. They say the policy shift will create new openings for corporate
profits in areas such as renewable energy that will spark innovation and give
the economy a boost.

"A total exit from nuclear is positive for the economy, on balance," said
Andrew Dewit, a professor at Rikkyo University who studies energy
policy.

Surveys show that a majority of voters favor exiting nuclear power sooner or
later.

Noda's decision to restart two units to avoid potential outages this summer
galvanized anti-nuclear protests. Last week, the government ended voluntary
power savings for parts of the country, with no blackouts during the hot summer
months.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/14/us-japan-nuclear-idUSBRE88D05520120914

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