November 13, 2012


Update on Planning Japan's Energy Future to 2030

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.122 (October 2012)

As we reported in our February and May JFS newsletter issues, the process is underway to determine Japan's future energy policy, including a key issue of deciding on the level of dependence on nuclear power, that will guide the country up to the year 2030.

Japan's Strategic Energy Plan under Review after 2011 Nuclear Disaster
Re-Examining GDP Growth Projections to Plan Japan's Future Energy Policy

As we reported in our August issue, the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, of which I am a member, submitted its proposed energy mix options at the end of May to the Energy and Environment Council (EEC), which consists of Cabinet members. Based on the subcommittee's proposal and others submitted by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission and the Central Environment Council, the EEC decided on its final direction for Japan's future energy mix and presented three options to the public at the end of June. This was followed by a national discussion in various processes and places.

Update on the Discussion in Japan on Energy and Environment Policy Options to 2030

The results of the national discussion showed that those who support the option of "zero dependence on nuclear power by 2030" accounted for a higher proportion of the total participants than for the other two options. This fact is seen in the results of those who chose the first option: 47 percent in the deliberative polling, 68 percent in the public hearings, and 87 percent in the public comments.

Based on these results, the EEC determined the "Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment" on September 14.

I quote from the beginning part of the body text of the Strategy.

(Start of quotation)

1. Realization of a Society Not Dependent on Nuclear Power in Earliest Possible Future

Verified results of national discussions so far held throughout Japan clearly indicate that, after the experiences of an accident at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and in the ensuing sufferings of many local areas and citizens including those in Fukushima Prefecture, many people are hoping to "build a society not dependent on nuclear power". So do those discussions, on the other hand, also reveal divergences in their views on how early it could realize and even whether it could possibly be built. Under such circumstances, it is important for the Government to show a path towards realization of a society not dependent on nuclear power.

At the same time, it is necessary to show how the Government can ensure safety of nuclear power, and how it can address the spent fuel issue, i.e., so-called backend issue, so as to overcome natural uncertainty and anxiety with nuclear power. In particular, it is necessary, taking the opportunity to select the future path, to tackle squarely the backend issue, including the nuclear fuel cycle policy issue lately brought to surface. In reflection, we have not shed enough attention for many years to the unsolved issues on means of processing and disposing spent fuels. The Government is now determined that it should not postpone but find solutions to these issues, recognizing the long history and co-operation rendered by Aomori Prefecture, and that it should call upon the whole nation, including those living in areas to enjoy consumption, to consider them seriously.

(1) Three guiding principles towards realization of a society not dependent on nuclear power
1) To strictly apply the stipulated rules regarding forty-year limitation of the operation;
2) To restart the operation of nuclear power plants once the Nuclear Regulation Authority gives safety assurance;
3) Not to plan the new and additional construction of a nuclear power plant, are the guiding principles.

In applying the three guiding principles, the Government will mobilize all possible 5 policy resources to such a level as to even enable zero operation of nuclear power plants in the 2030's. As its first step, the Government will compose the "Framework for Green Development Policy" by the end of this year, make it as a roadmap for the expansion of green energy, and incorporate in it goals such as the time-bound targets of saving electricity and energy conservation, targets on the amount of introduced renewable energy, technology development and dissemination, as well as the specific measures, such as budgets and regulatory reforms, which will enable these targets.

(End of the quotation)

Following this section "1. Realization of a Society Not Dependent on Nuclear Power in Earliest Possible Future," the policy of promoting electricity and energy saving and renewable energy is described in "2. Realization of Green Energy Revolution." Then, four policies are described in "3. For Ensuring Stable Supply of Energy": (1) Intensive use of thermal power generation, (2) Advanced use of heat such as cogeneration, (3) Technologies related to the next generation energy and (4) Stable and inexpensive securement and supply of fossil fuels, etc.

In order to strongly advance these policies, this strategy describes
(1) Promotion of competition in the electricity market, and
(2) Neutralization [deregulation or liberalization] and widening of the transmission and distribution sectors in "4. Bold Implementation of Reform of Electricity Power Systems," and concludes with "5. Steady Implementation of Global Warming Countermeasures."

Note: The phrase in a bracket [ ] is added by JFS.

Industry is strongly opposed to the Strategy, saying that it is absolutely unrealistic to eliminate dependence on nuclear power. The chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) Hiromasa Yonekura made a direct call to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to declare his opposition to the government policy. The leaders of Keidanren, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, the three main economic organizations in Japan, held a joint press conference to voice their objections to the Strategy.

Furthermore, local governments where nuclear power stations are located also reacted angrily, saying that the Strategy hardly considers the impacts on their communities, which have long supported the national energy policy. In addition, the local governments where nuclear fuel processing plants for the nuclear fuel cycle are located also expressed strong objections; Kenji Furukawa, the mayor of Rokkasho Village, where nuclear fuel processing plants are located, angrily remarked that the village industries, the villagers' dreams and faith in the national government would all be broken (if the national policy on the nuclear power is shifted).

In addition, the media have reported that Japan received strong concerns and requests from the United States -- the country that has concluded an agreement for cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy with Japan. Moreover, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a talk with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Vladivostok, Russia, she showed an "interest" in the zero nuclear policy. Then, the prime minister's assistant and others were rushed to the U.S. to explain this matter, but the U.S. side reportedly expressed its concern over the management of plutonium, a radioactive chemical element generated in the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel. Also, John J. Hamre, the president & CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies of the U.S. contributed an article to Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, on September 12, in which he pointed out that Japan's zero nuclear strategy means Japan's abdication of its responsibility to international society in terms of nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and requested Japan to reconsider this policy.

Also, on September 18, at a meeting of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy (of which I am a member), representatives of the industrial sector, including the subcommittee's chairman Akio Mimura (then Chairman of Nippon Steel Corporation), who had thoroughly committed to his role in leading the proceedings, articulated a list of objections to the zero nuclear scenario.

Owing to these opposition forces, at the ministerial-level meeting on September 19, the Cabinet was unable to approve the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment and decided to treat it only as a reference document. In this meeting, the following text was approved: "The Government of Japan will implement future policies on energy and the environment, taking into account the Innovative Strategy on Energy and the Environment, while having discussions in a responsible manner with related local governments, the international community and others, and obtaining understanding of the Japanese public, by constantly reviewing and reexamining policies with flexibility."

From this perspective, the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment, which aims for zero nuclear power generation, may be rendered ineffective. In fact, no more subcommittee meetings have been held since the ministerial-level meeting, so the process of establishing the Basic Energy Plan has been at a standstill.

Meanwhile, the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment specifies that the government should establish a new nuclear energy policy on the basis of the Energy and Environmental Council, should arrange a platform to consider the ideal situation of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), and should thoroughly review it, while taking into account the possibility of its abolition and reorganization while focusing on its function of securing the peaceful use of nuclear energy. JAEC consequently decided to discontinue developing the Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy, the fundamental principle of Japan's nuclear policy.

This framework, which serves as a basis for Japan's nuclear energy policy, has been revised almost every five years since 1956, when the Long-Term Program for Research, Development and Utilization of Nuclear Power was first developed. The current framework was established in 2005. Some are now concerned that the dysfunction of JAEC will further slow down progress on many issues concerning the atomic fuel cycle and other nuclear energy-related policies.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment reportedly began to consider scrapping a bill on the Basic Law on Global Warming Countermeasures, which was under discussion during the latest ordinary session of the Diet. This basic law specifies that Japan's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target in 2020 is 25 percent from the 1990 level, while the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment describes Japan's aim "to reduce the emissions by about 20 percent from the 1990 level by 2030. Regarding the reduction target for 2020, it needs to be considered with a certain range of tolerance because the operation of nuclear power plants is uncertain, but it will be a five to nine percent reduction (compared to the 1990 level) when is calculated according to certain assumptions." In this regard, the target specified in the innovative strategy is inconsistent with the target mentioned in the Basic Law.

The next general election will likely be held soon in Japan, possibly leading to changes in political administration. With this current status, the direction and content of energy strategies -- which must be the foundation and the framework of the nation -- are making it very difficult to know which way things are going. When journalists or acquaintances from overseas ask me about the status of Japan's energy policy, I feel frustrated by my inability to provide a good explanation. At the same time, I also feel that no one may know the answer. This is the situation as best I can convey it to you now. Japan's future energy policy is uncertain. I really appreciate your cooperation, including participation in our international questionnaire surveys.

Written by Junko Edahiro