Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Yujiro Oiwa

【#242】Japan’s Basic Energy Plan Lacks Basics

Yujiro Oiwa / 2014.04.17 (Thu)

April 14, 2014

      On April 11, the Japanese government decided on a basic energy plan as a medium to long-term energy policy guideline at last. The decision had been scheduled for last autumn but has been postponed frequently with the plan’s details made vaguer. The details reflect the government’s wavering attitude and could harm Japan’s national interests in the future.

Compromises result in many contradictions
      The key point of the basic energy plan is how to treat nuclear power generation. The government has been so fearful of a harsh reaction from the general public, some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner New Komeito Party that the plan has failed to specify a nuclear power generation policy direction. The failure has resulted in contradictions in the plan and affected the significance of the plan.
      The only feature of the basic plan is Japan’s shift from a policy of gradual mothball of nuclear power plants. The plan calls for restarting existing nuclear power plants after their safety is confirmed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, in line with the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment (decided on by the Energy and Environment Council on September 14, 2012) adopted by the previous administration headed by then Democratic Party of Japan leader Yoshihiko Noda. While the government has been responsible for realizing the restart under the strategy, it has passed on the burden to the NRA and refrained from doing its best to restart nuclear plants.
      While specifying nuclear energy in addition to hydropower, coal and geothermal energy as one of key base load power sources, the basic plan calls for reducing the dependence on nuclear plants as much as possible. It thus failed to revise the DPJ government’s policy of decommissioning of nuclear plants after 40 years of operation. As far as the government remains undecided on whether to build new or additional nuclear reactors, nuclear power plants may be phased out over time. The plan also failed to specify the position of nuclear energy under the ongoing electricity system reform for deregulating the electricity market. It only describes policies on individual energy sources  while failing to come with the best energy mix. Such plan cannot be a medium to long-term policy guideline.

Positioning nuclear energy as core power source is realistic
      The basic plan gave excessive considerations to the anti-nuclear camp and left the significance of nuclear energy vague. As far as nuclear plants are positioned as one of key base load power sources, Japan must secure and develop nuclear plant technology and engineers through the replacement of outdated nuclear reactors with new ones and continue research on fast breeder reactors.
      The government is required to position not only renewable energy but also nuclear energy as a power source subject to policy support. This approach may represent an effective energy security policy meeting national interests of Japan plagued with a very low energy self-sufficiency rate and great geopolitical risks.

Yujiro Oiwa is a JINF Planning Committee Member and Professor at Tokyo International University.