Nuclear Power

01 Oct 2021

Japan’s Potential New Premier Supports Nuclear Power

01 Oct 2021  by   
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) today picked ex-foreign minister Fumio Kishida as its new party head and imminent Japanese premier, who is in favour of restarting safe nuclear reactors and considering replacing ageing reactors to push ahead with the country's 2050 carbon-neutral goal.

Kishida beat current vaccine minister Taro Kono in today's run-off election, after all four candidates failed to secure a majority in the first round of voting. Kishida is likely to be appointed Japan's new premier on 4 October when an extraordinary session of the diet will be held, replacing current premier Yoshihide Suga.

Suga decided earlier this month not to seek re-election as president of the LDP, saying it would require enormous energy to manage both Covid-19 issues and the election campaign. He will step down only after a year as the leader of LDP.

Kishida is expected to prioritise measures to resolve Covid-19 issues to spur economic recovery and gear up efforts to achieve the country's stricter target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 46pc against 2013 levels by 2030 and decarbonisation by 2050.

Kishida has emphasised during the election campaign, which began on 17 September, that Japan's clean energy menu should be well balanced with a combination of sources such as renewable, hydrogen, carbon recycling and nuclear to ensure both stable supplies and cost competitiveness amid digitalisation and rising electricity use.

Kishida has also replied to the LDP member group seeking nuclear replacement, saying it is important to develop nuclear technology with an eye towards the future as it will be difficult to reach carbon neutrality just with renewables. He has affirmed his stance to support a restart of nuclear reactors while keeping safety a priority and is mulling replacing ageing reactors with high safety technologies such as small module reactors. It is also necessary to continue the nuclear fuel cycle, otherwise existing reactors will be forced to shut down and Japan will fail to meet its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions goal, Kishida said.

Kishida's nuclear stance may prompt an update of the country's draft energy policy, which is in the process of public hearings from 3 September to 4 October. The preliminary policy did not include plans for construction or replacement of reactors. But Kishida said the cabinet should approve the draft policy only after a well review of public comment.

The draft energy policy, which is in line with the tougher 2030 GHG-reduction goal, said Japan will promote the restart of nuclear reactors while keeping safety as a priority. But it also said the country will reduce dependence on nuclear as much as possible, while increasing renewables use.

Without any capacity additions, Japan will eventually phase out nuclear reactors. Under the current nuclear safety rules, all reactors are allowed to operate for 40 years with a one-time option to extend their lifespan to 60 years. This suggests that 15 of the existing 33 reactors with a combined capacity of 14,057MW will be forced to close by December 2030 and there will be no operational reactors in 2050, assuming a 40-year lifespan.

Japan's Federation of Electric Power Companies, a group of major power utilities, has repeatedly reiterated the importance of nuclear as a base-load power source, showing regret at the lack of mention of reactor replacement or construction in the draft energy policy. The Japan Iron and Steel Federation has also reiterated its support for nuclear power, urging the government to make full use of nuclear reactors of which safety is guaranteed and to promote construction of replacement and new reactors towards 2030.

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