March 20, 2012


Japan's Strategic Energy Plan under Review after 2011 Nuclear Disaster

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.114 (February 2012)

Copyright Japan for Sustainability

The Japanese government launched a review of its energy policies after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which was caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. I am engaged in the review process representing JFS and the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society. In this article, I would like to provide some background on the current situation and the future outlook of the review.

In June 2002, Japan established the Basic Act on Energy Policy in line with three fundamental principles, called the three Es -- Energy (securing a stable energy supply), Environment (environmental sustainability), and Economy (utilization of market mechanisms).

The law stipulates that the government must formulate a basic plan on energy supply and demand, called the Strategic Energy Plan, that the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry must formulate a draft of the plan by consulting with the heads of relevant administrative organs and the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, and then seek a cabinet decision on the draft.

The Strategic Energy Plan is to be reviewed every three years. The first revision was made in March 2007. The second revision made in June 2010 is the current plan.

Under it the emphasis is on energy security consisting of five factors: improving the ratio of energy self-sufficiency, energy conservation, diversification of energy structure and supply sources, maintenance of the supply chain, and improvement of emergency response capability. The targets set for 2030 are as follows:

  1. Double the energy self-sufficiency ratio (18% at present, including nuclear power generation) and the domestically-developed fossil fuel supply ratio* (26% at present), and raise the energy independence ratio to about 70 percent from the present 38 percent.
    *The ratio of fossil fuel supply from domestic and overseas interests that a Japanese company has a share in the total supply
  2. Raise the ratio of energy from zero-emission power sources such as nuclear and renewable energy to 70 percent (by more than 50% in 2020) from the present 34%. For this purpose:
    • Build more than 14 additional nuclear plants (nine by 2020).
    • Raise the overall plant capacity utilization rate to 90 percent (85% by 2020) from the 60% in 2008.
    • Maximize the use of renewable energy.
  3. Cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the residential sector by half.
  4. Maintain and raise energy efficiency in the industrial sector to the highest level in the world.
  5. Maintain or achieve top-level shares of global markets for energy-related products and systems.

According to the plan, the goal is to reduce domestic energy-related CO2 emissions by 30 percent in 2030 compared to the 1990 level. Its intention was to increase nuclear energy in the mix to raise Japan's level of energy self-sufficiency, on the assumption this would also enhance energy security. (Although Japan imports all the uranium it needs for nuclear power generation, nuclear power was deemed a "quasi-domestic energy" because the government considers it possible to recycle nuclear fuel at home, if the nuclear fuel cycle is based on reprocessing used fuel and using it in fast-breeder reactors.)

The government has long been using nuclear power generation as a bargaining chip to prevent global warming as a zero-emission power source that does not emit CO2 during plant operation. Meanwhile, non-governmental organizations and others have been advocating for renewable energy as both a better energy alternative for improving the energy self-sufficiency rate and curbing global warming. As a response to such calls, the government said that it would make the greatest efforts to promote renewable energy, but without setting any targets. Some thought that it intended to exclude renewable energy because it hinders the promotion of nuclear power generation.

The Strategic Energy Plan was originally scheduled for revision in 2013, but in light of nuclear disaster, at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima power plant, former prime minister Naoto Kan ordered a review of the plan from scratch and to have it revised by summer 2012. With the Minister of State for National Policy as chair and cabinet members and others as participants, the Energy and Environment Council was set up in June 2011, and it decided on the following three fundamental concepts for revision of the Strategic Energy Plan in July 2011.

(1) Basic Philosophy I: Three principles to achieve a new, best mix of energy sources

Principle 1: Draw up a scenario of reduced dependence on nuclear energy
Principle 2: Create a detailed and strategic schedule designed to avoid energy shortfalls and price hikes
Principle 3: Conduct a thorough review of nuclear power policies and operate under a new framework

(2) Basic Philosophy II: Three principles for the realization of new energy systems

Principle 1: Seek the creation of distributed energy systems
Principle 2: Seek to make an international contribution as an advanced problem-solving nation
Principle 3: Take a multifaceted approach to the realization of distributed energy systems

(3) Basic Philosophy III: Three principles for the formation of a national consensus

Principle 1: Stimulate national discussions that go beyond arguments for and against nuclear power generation
Principle 2: Verify objective data
Principle 3: Formulate innovative energy and environmental strategies while maintaining national dialogue with a broad range of people

Based on these basic philosophies, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, and the Central Environment Council were requested to prepare options for the nation's nuclear policies, energy mix, and measures to prevent global warming.

The JAEC, composed of a chairman and four commissioners appointed by the Prime Minister with the Diet's consent, was set up under the Cabinet Office to deliberately implement national policies concerning the Atomic Energy Basic Law and democratically manage nuclear energy policies. The Central Environment Council is an advisory body to the environment minister, established in conformity with the Basic Environment Law.

The Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, created under the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, is an advisory panel to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. The committee set up the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee to formulate the new Strategic Energy Plan. As mentioned above, I serve as a commissioner on the committee as the chief executive of JFS and the president of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society.

After integrating the outcome of discussions in these three establishments, the Energy and Environment Council is to present combined proposals for a range of strategic options on energy and environment, ensure a deepening of discussion nationally, and finalize the scheme by this summer.

The Fundamental Issues Subcommittee on Japan's energy mix, to which I belong, met seven times in 2011, starting in October, and more frequently in 2012, almost every week. First, 25 members presented their opinions on the organization of discussion points. Now, we are discussing the themes of nuclear power, energy saving, renewable energy, and fossil fuel, and conducting hearings with energy providers to propose options for the energy mix this spring.

Initially, 17 people were selected as members of the committee, consisting of only two people, including myself, who do not support the idea of promoting nuclear power generation and reportedly 15 people in favor of it. This stirred up criticism from NGOs and other organizations, and consequently more people not supporting nuclear power generation were added, with the committee now totaling 25 members. Though it does not carry any voting power, it should provide an opportunity for a well-balanced discussion.

One of the main features of the committee is that it is fully open to the public and webcast online, which is a first for any Japanese government committee. The Minna-no [Everybody's] Energy and Environment Conference (MEEC), as I wrote in JFS Newsletter No. 108 (August 2011), was a model of open discussion, and among 10 of its organizers were three members, including myself, of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee. We insisted on the necessity of it being open and webcast, and hopefully this will continue as such an open platform.

Open Platform for Energy Policy Discussion Launched

JFS will report on the ongoing discussions in the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee, including the options being considered for the energy mix to be presented in the spring of 2012. I welcome the comments and opinions from readers from anywhere in the world, which I will convey to the subcommittee as feedback.

Meanwhile, the subcommittee now consists of 25 members, of which only four are women. In addition, most members are from older generations, meaning that most members of the subcommittee may already hold certain assumptions when listening to the voices of women and young people.

A decision on the future of our nation's energy will affect every person in Japan. Regardless of differences in gender and age, down-to-earth discussions among a wide variety of people should be conducted, and the results should be reflected in the process of policymaking. With the hope of collecting a broad range of views on energy, the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society held a meeting at the end of January 2012 to consider energy issues from the viewpoint of women, in collaboration with JFS and other organizations. The purpose was to encourage women to talk frankly about energy, so that I could then convey their views and opinions to the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee.

Over 100 women attended the meeting and actively discussed energy issues, with a focus on three questions: What viewpoints are important when considering energy? What more do you need to know or what data do you need for the informed consideration of energy policy? Is there a better way to develop energy policy?

In discussions on energy policy, the government and associated organizations such as the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee and the business community usually place emphasis on the economy, costs, international competitiveness, and national security. In contrast, many women raised additional views as important factors such as life, future generations, the right to choose, and ethics.

The video clip of the meeting (in Japanese) is available at:

The meeting was publicly significant. It was covered by more than 10 news agencies and seven officials from the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy -- which is the secretariat for the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee -- and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) attended to observe and listen to the women's lively discussion. One official said, "METI is usually connected with industrial and financial circles, so when it comes to energy we are more likely to put a higher value on safety, supply stability, costs, and, if possible, the environment -- but I actually learned today that there are various other factors to be considered. This meeting was a valuable opportunity, and I would like to continue to listen to the voices of people on various occasions."

More than 100 questions were submitted through the women's discussion on "What more do you need to know or what data do you need for an informed consideration of energy policy?" With voluntary cooperation from the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, I will organize the data and information, and then publish them as answers to these questions by the spring of 2012, when the energy-mix options are to be presented and the public is expected to comment.

I also reported the results of the meeting, along with detailed reference documents, to the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee on February 9, 2012, after summarizing the views of the women, including their opinions, questions, and recommendations or requests concerning the policymaking process. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano's comment on this was: "I looked through the attendees' opinions, which were full of important comments. I will make the best use of them, and continue listening to a variety of opinions from all walks of life to consider new energy strategies for our country."

I don't know yet whether this meeting really made any impact on the process of producing an energy policy, but I will continue to make efforts in my capacity as a committee member to help develop the national energy policy more democratically. I'm now planning the next initiative -- a meeting to consider energy issues from the viewpoint of young people!

Written by Junko Edahiro