Japan makes major nuclear about-turn

Japan makes major nuclear about-turn

PM says extending lifespan of existing reactors and building new ones essential for energy security

An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) holds a geiger counter during an inspection in February 2021 to measure the radiation level in front of a reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was badly damaged in the 2011 earthquake. (Photo: AFP)
An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) holds a geiger counter during an inspection in February 2021 to measure the radiation level in front of a reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was badly damaged in the 2011 earthquake. (Photo: AFP)

TOKYO: Japan decided on Thursday to allow nuclear reactors to operate beyond their current limit of 60 years and to replace ageing facilities with new advanced ones, in a major policy change to cut carbon emissions while ensuring energy supplies amid disruptions from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The government plans to raise about 20 trillion yen (US$152 billion) by issuing “green transformation” bonds to expand investment in decarbonisation projects, as it estimates that public and private investment of over 150 trillion yen will be necessary over the next 10 years.

The relevant bills to support the new policy will be sumbitted to a parliamentary session that will convene early next year, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

“We will tackle the backend issue of high-level radioactive waste with all-out efforts,” he said in reference to the harmful waste created through nuclear power generation that must be properly disposed of, including finding a final disposal site.

After public opinion turned sour on nuclear power following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, the government said repeatedly it was not considering building new nuclear reactors or replacing existing ones.

But the war in Ukraine has driven energy prices sharply higher and threatened stable energy supplies in Japan, which relies heavily on fossil fuel imports for power generation.

Governments across Europe and Asia are also extending the life of their ageing nuclear fleets, restarting reactors and dusting off plans to resume projects shelved after the Fukushima disaster.

The new Japanese government guidelines for nuclear power plants cover extending the lifespan of reactors and the construction of replacements for those destined to be scrapped.

In the financial year to March 2021, nuclear accounted for 3.9% of Japan’s power mix, with the government now aiming to boost the share to as much as 22% by 2030.

Japan’s energy self-sufficiency rate stood at 13.4% as of fiscal 2021, lower than in many other developed countries.

A survey by the Yomiuri newspaper in August found 58% of respondents in favour of restarting idled reactors, the first time a majority approved of the idea in that poll series since the question was initially posed in 2017. A separate survey by the public broadcaster NHK earlier this month found 45% approved of the plan, while 37% opposed it.

The government still faces some opposition from local residents over nuclear restarts and lawsuits related to safety concerns still keep many reactors offline. Only a third of Japan’s operable reactors have restarted since the 2011 disaster.


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