The Basic Act on Energy Policy (which came into effect in 2002) stipulates that the Strategic Energy Plan should be reviewed every three years. Energy policy is stated to be an important government issue but, by law, parliamentary deliberation is not necessary.
The Basic Act on Energy Policy is lawmaker-initiated legislation which was drafted by a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member of parliament with the aim to ensure that climate change countermeasures were properly implemented. At the time the legislation was written, construction of 14 new nuclear reactors was planned and one of the aims of the legislation was to make sure that these constructions proceeded smoothly. In 2006, METI compiled the Nuclear Energy National Plan, making even clearer that Japan’s climate change countermeasures were to be based on expansion of nuclear power generation.
However, the situation changed immensely due to the earthquake and tsunami that occurred on 11 March 2011 and the ensuing hydrogen explosion and nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi, followed by the passing of the Feed-In-Tariff Law for renewable energy the following August. The Democratic Party, in power at the time, announced a policy of nuclear phase-out by the 2030s and produced the “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment”, planning to use this as the base for revising the Strategic Energy Plan. But the opposition from METI and industry groups was fierce and this plan was defeated. Then the LDP came back into power.
As a result of all these factors, the 4th Strategic Energy Plan (compiled in 2014) stated that while renewable energy would be promoted, nuclear and coal-powered generation were also ‘important baseload energy sources.’ The following year METI released the Long-term Energy Supply and Demand Outlook which set the following electricity generation targets for 2030-nuclear: 20-22%, renewables: 22-24%, coal: 26%, LNG: 27%. General utilities use the ‘important baseload energy’ designation for their nuclear power plants, even if they are not operating, and because the Japanese electricity industry has not been unbundled, the utilities still control electricity transmission and they are able to refuse or limit grid connections for renewable energy sources.
Discussions on revisions to the Energy Plan started last year but from the beginning it was assumed that the vision for 2030 would not change very much. Furthermore, METI set up the Round Table for Studying Energy Situations to map out policy directions towards 2050. Their discussions were compiled into recommendations which were released on 11 April and were also included in the revisions to the Energy Plan.
The 5th Strategic Energy Plan draft includes the above recommendations in an added chapter. Chapter 3 is titled: ‘Challenges of energy transition towards 2050.’ In terms of contents, ‘energy transition and decarbonization’ are promoted but the uncertainty of political and economic factors makes it difficult to make exact predictions, so the plan attempts to lay out ‘an ambitious double-track scenario where all options are pursued.’ In any case, making renewable energy economically viable and the main power source is a major thrust. This is certainly the right direction, but there is no mention of concrete targets or means such as the actual percentage of all generated power the ‘main power source’ should be or clear mechanisms to actually make renewables economically viable.
On the other hand, regarding nuclear power, the Plan states that ‘as a country that experienced the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, we are expected to reduce our dependency on nuclear power as much as possible while pursuing the potential of renewable energy.’ This surely means that renewable energy must be made 100% reliable. However, while saying that dependence on nuclear power must be reduced, the Plan designates nuclear power as a ‘practical-level carbon-free option,’ leaving open the possibility to develop it in the future.
In the Paris Agreement (2016), Japan has committed to cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. According to the latest report of Japan’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory (National Institute for Environmental Studies), carbon emissions for fiscal 2016 were 1,204.3 million tons. Of this, 95% is emitted from burning fuel, and of this, 44% is emitted by the energy industry, 23% by the manufacturing and construction industry and 17.2% by the transport industry. Thus, in order to cut overall emissions by 80%, it is necessary to reduce energy industry emissions to zero. Despite this, the Plan states that in the transition period until decarbonization becomes a reality, internally and externally, fossil fuel would be a main energy source. Such a backward-looking posture.
In order to achieve ‘energy transition and decarbonization,’ the plan is aiming to achieve the energy mix which was set for 2030. Concretely these percentages are: 22-24% renewables, 20-22% nuclear and 26% coal-fired. The position of nuclear and thermal coal-fired power generation remains ‘an important baseload power source,’ despite claims that this position for nuclear and thermal energy is blocking the expansion of renewables.
As for nuclear power, nothing has changed from the 4th Plan – ‘re-establishment of nuclear policy’ is still called for, concrete measures including: Efforts toward restoration and reconstruction of Fukushima; untiring pursuit of safety; expanding storage capacity of spent fuels; drastic reinforcement of measures for final disposal of high-level radioactive waste; and the promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle policy, including starting operations at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. This list of policies, all of which ignore the will of the citizens and ignore economic rationality, are in logical contradiction to the stated aim of ‘reducing dependence on nuclear power as much as possible.’
If we look squarely at the fact that our lives were not disrupted when all nuclear reactors were shut down in the period following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, it is obvious that ‘Zero Nukes’ is possible. Right now, with so few reactors actually restarting, we have a golden opportunity to switch back to zero nukes.