EDITORIAL | Restarting nuclear power plants to tackle the energy crisis and achieve decarbonization

On July 27, the Japanese government launched the first meeting of its Green Transformation (GX) panel, chaired by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, to discuss steps towards a low-carbon society.

The Prime Minister began the meeting by recalling the urgency of “rebuilding a stable energy supply” given the seriousness of the current energy situation. At present, the balance between electricity supply and demand in Japan remains extremely tight.

Kishida further asked the panel to clearly identify issues that require political decisions, such as restarting nuclear power plants.

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Prime Minister Kishida attends the first GX Executive Committee meeting. July 27, 2022 (photo by Ataru Haruna).

Why now?

The Prime Minister had good reason to insist on the urgency. Failure to resolve the current energy crisis will seriously hamper subsequent decarbonization efforts. The panel needs to clarify its priorities.

As global energy prices soar following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there is a growing movement in Europe to re-evaluate nuclear power plants as a decarbonizing energy source.

As a country with scant natural resources, Japan needs to take advantage of its safety-tested nuclear power plants – a decision that will hopefully be made under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Kishida.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Kishida said the current situation is so serious that it has raised fears of “the first energy crisis since the oil crisis of 1973”.

He added, “Without overcoming this crisis, there will be no green transformation by 2030 or 2050.”

Its sense of urgency about the severity of the crisis should be shared by government officials and the public.

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Ten years have passed since the Tomari nuclear power plant of the Hokkaido Electric Power Company. was stopped for inspection in November 2012. (photo: May 2022 by Naoki Ohtake)

Facing political decisions

Prime Minister Kishida also urged the panel to identify issues that require political decisions, such as restarting nuclear power plants, by the next meeting, scheduled for September.

The Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, who is also Minister for the Promotion of Green Transformation, is to present concrete measures to improve the efficiency of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, which is a administrative body which examines the safety of nuclear power plants.

The extended review period of nuclear power plants by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority means that only 10 nuclear power plants in Japan have passed the review and restarted operations. Moreover, none of them are in the eastern part of Japan, threatened by the power crisis.

Energy liberalization has also led to the closure and dismantling of aging thermal power plants, further exacerbating electricity shortages in eastern Japan.

Under such circumstances, the Kishida administration should take practical steps to restart the nuclear power plants.

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Early restarting of nuclear power plants in eastern Japan would not only help eliminate power shortages and ensure stability of supply, but also bring down electricity prices rapidly.

New decarbonization roadmap

The GX panel also decided to create a 10-year decarbonization roadmap that begins in 2023. To continue to use nuclear power plants as a decarbonizing energy source, this roadmap must also include the construction of new plants and the reconstruction of existing ones.


(Read the editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun

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