Japan Sees Clean Energy Edging Out Nuclear Power in 2030

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An Installation Trainee Secures A Solar Panel
An installation trainee secures a solar panel in Wrexham, Wales. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Japan anticipates that by 2030 clean energy such as solar and hydro will generate slightly more of the nation’s electricity than nuclear power plants.

Clean energy sources will supply as much as 24 percent of Japan’s electricity in 15 years, while atomic power will account for as much as 22 percent, according to a draft report from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on what Japan’s electricity mix should look like by 2030.

Though the eagerly-awaited report -- the result of months of study by a ministry panel debating the electricity mix -- continues to see a need for nuclear, the draft proposes a diminished role compared with before the Fukushima disaster of March 2011. Nuclear power accounted for more than a quarter of Japan’s electricity generation before the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactors.

Even the 22 percent level is doubtful for a nation with one of the world’s oldest nuclear fleets and where the majority of the public has opposed atomic generation since Fukushima, environmental group Greenpeace, which campaigns against nuclear power, said in a statement.

Nuclear’s role has been the central focus of the panel’s discussions. The 2011 disaster triggered strong opposition to atomic power among the public, while the subsequent spike in electricity prices has seen business groups lobby intensively for the nation’s nuclear reactors to resume operations.

Operable Reactors

Nuclear provided about 29 percent of Japan’s electricity in fiscal 2010, while clean energy sources supplied 9.6 percent with most of that coming from hydro. None of Japan’s commercially operable nuclear reactors are working at the moment.

If all 24 nuclear reactors currently under review for a restart by the country’s nuclear watchdog are allowed to switch back on, they would still not be able to generate more than 16 percent of Japan’s power, Greenpeace estimates. At least 10 more reactor units need to resume operations to reach the government’s target for nuclear, the group said.

Such a mass-scale restart is unlikely, according to Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany.

“The scale of the challenges facing the nuclear industry are such that generation from reactors is likely to collapse during the coming decade,” Burnie said in the statement. “Many reactors will never restart, and most reactors over the coming years will be too old to operate.”

Latest Proposal

The latest proposal signals less reliance on nuclear than a previous plan released in 2010. Japan had been envisioning nuclear and renewable sources supplying 53 percent and 21 percent of power, respectively, by 2030, under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

The DPJ’s stance shifted following the Fukushima disaster, with the party eventually calling for all nuclear to be phased out. The DPJ was replaced by a coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party in December 2012.

The draft foresees hydro power accounting for as much as 9.2 percent of Japan’s total power generation, with solar at 7 percent, wind at 1.7 percent, biomass coming in at as much as 4.6 percent and geothermal as much as 1.1 percent, according to the release.

By 2030, gas will supply 27 percent while coal and oil will provide 26 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

The release came a day after the trade ministry issued draft estimates of power generation costs. Nuclear is estimated to be the cheapest source, as low as 10.1 yen per kilowatt hour, by 2030.

Large-scale solar was estimated to cost 12.7 yen to 15.5 yen, while onshore wind was projected to cost 13.9 yen to 21.9 yen, according to the ministry.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the time reference to an earlier energy mix plan referenced in the seventh paragraph.)

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