Japan Policy Stops Short of Setting Clean Energy Targets

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s final version of a draft energy report reinforces atomic power’s role in the country’s future and falls short of advocating specific goals for renewable energy use.

The policy describes nuclear as “an important base-load energy source,” according to a 78-page draft obtained by Bloomberg News. The plan, the first update to the nation’s energy policy since the 2011 Fukushima crisis, is expected to be approved as early as April 11, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said yesterday at a press conference.

The plan represents a compromise for coalition partner New Komeito, which had pushed for the inclusion of specific targets for renewables. The party pledged during an election campaign in 2012 that clean energy would provide 30 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030, or 35 percent if hydropower is included.

The new policy says Japan will aim to introduce clean energy at levels that “further” exceed previously announced targets. The ruling parties earlier sought to say renewables should “significantly” exceed old targets.

A plan published in 2010 by a previous government envisioned Japan getting about 20 percent of its electricity from clean energy and 53 percent from nuclear by 2030.

Clean Energy

The new policy was approved by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito last week, despite deep divisions over nuclear energy in Japan. Sixty-nine percent of respondents to a poll last month published by the Tokyo Shimbun said nuclear power should be phased out.

Officials with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry weren’t available for comment.

“We will leave behind the energy strategy drawn up before the earthquake and start from scratch,” according to the draft policy to be considered by Cabinet.

To promote inter-ministerial cooperation on clean energy issues, the government will set up a council of ministers, according to the policy.

While the policy describes Japan’s intention to reduce nuclear reliance, it also says reactors will be restarted once their safety is confirmed. “We will reduce our dependency on nuclear as much as possible,” according to the final draft.

The Komeito earlier sought to end Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, a position also taken by the country’s previous administration, which was voted out of power in December 2012.

Coal’s Role

The plan also calls coal an important base-load power source, saying it is economical and supply is stable although it emits large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. “We will push through further technology development to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving power generation efficiency” of coal, according to the report.

“The government draft does not at all mention changes that are happening in the world” regarding coal, Teruyuki Ohno, executive director of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, wrote on March 20 in a column posted on the group’s website, referring to an earlier version of the policy.

He said that major international banks such as the World Bank are announcing plans not to support coal projects following a U.S. policy not to give loans for coal-fired plants in developing countries. “The draft instead features plans to export coal technology abroad.”

Japan will set its energy mix -- targets for various energy types -- “soon” taking into account nuclear restarts and clean energy installations, according to the policy.

Nuclear Plants

Nuclear plants provided more than a quarter of Japan’s electricity before the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 caused meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. Japan’s 48 operable commercial reactors have since been shut because of earthquake damage or for maintenance or safety checks. The country has been nuclear-free since September 2013.

Eight of Japan’s regional utilities including Tokyo Electric, the operator of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, applied for safety checks for some of their reactors.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said in March that it would expedite safety checks on two of Kyushu Electric’s reactors, raising the prospect that some nuclear capacity may be restored ahead of peak power demand in summer.

The previous government run by the Democratic Party of Japan set a target of phasing out nuclear by the end of the 2030s in a policy set in September 2012 but never enacted.

Japan currently gets 1.6 percent of its electricity from sources such as wind and solar, with hydropower providing 8.4 percent.