Japan will need nuclear power if it is to realise the government's carbon neutrality goal and should therefore restart idled nuclear reactors as soon as possible, as well as work to extend their operating lifetimes and build new nuclear capacity, the heads of the Japanese Atomic Industry Forum (JAIF) and the Japan Iron and Steel Federation (JISF) have said in separate New Year messages.
Japan has confirmed its objective to raise the share of nuclear power to 20-22% by 2030, but the process to restart the reactors shut down after the Fukushima Daiichi accident remains slow. According to the International Energy Agency, as of January 2020, the reviews of 15 reactors had been successfully completed and nine of them had returned to operation. The remaining 18 operable reactors are at various stages of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) review process, and several may be forced to shut down temporarily for not meeting NRA deadlines to construct back-up control centres or other facilities required by the new regulations.
Japan’s Basic Energy Plan, set in 2018 and due for revision in 2021, targets 22-24% of its energy to come from renewables by 2030, along with 20-22% from nuclear power and 56% from fossil fuels.
In his inaugural parliamentary address, in October last year, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga committed the world's third-largest economy, and fifth-highest emitter, to reaching net-zero by 2050. This will include an increase in the share of renewables to 50% by 2030, he said.
In his 2021 New Year statement, JAIF Chairman Takashi Imai said that, to achieve the net-zero by 2050 target, the use of nuclear power as a source of low-carbon energy will be essential. Japan has limited natural resources and relies on imports of fossil fuels for most of its primary energy, he noted, and so it must use nuclear power "more proactively" to improve its self-sufficiency.
"To achieve carbon neutrality and improve energy self-sufficiency, Japan will have to restart the remaining idle nuclear reactors as soon as possible, and endeavour to replace older plants and build additional new ones," he said.
JAIF President Shiro Arai said he "strongly hoped" for "consistent" progress towards restarting Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 6 and 7, Onagawa 2, Tokai Daini, Takahama 1 and 2 and Mihama 3. Those units have all received regulatory approval to make changes to their installations to meet new safety standards. A further nine units have also begun the restart approval process according to World Nuclear Association.
The government's forthcoming Sixth Strategic Energy Plan should "aim to revise the current national policy of minimising dependence on nuclear energy", Arai said. Its Green Growth Strategy for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, which was announced at the end of 2020, includes the "accelerated innovation" of nuclear technology, including small modular reactors and nuclear-produced hydrogen, he added.
Steel industry needs nuclear
Eiji Hashimoto, chairman of JISF, said achieving zero-carbon steel by 2050 would be a challenge. Hydrogen-reduction steel production could help, but there are still technical hurdles to overcome, he said. The process would require large-scale, inexpensive and carbon-free hydrogen supply infrastructure to be practical, and would need long-term support from the government.
He called for the government to find an "urgent solution" to high Japanese industrial electricity prices to enable Japanese steel to be cost-competitive at the same time as realising carbon neutrality. In addition to capping an expected rise in feed-in tariff surcharges associated with expanding renewable energy generation, he also called for the government to restart idled nuclear power plants. He called for the government draw up a new basic energy plan that included an expansion of nuclear energy and in a way that integrates industrial and energy policy.