On July 21, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Japan announced a revised draft of the "Basic Energy Plan," which indicates the direction of national energy policy. A review of the power source composition in 2030 was announced to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Photo quoted from Yahoo's image)


The METI started efforts to revise the basic energy plan in October 2020. In the revised bill, the ratio of renewable energy such as solar power and wind power to the total power generation was raised to 36-38% for the new power source composition in 2030. The current plan is 22-24%.


In addition, nuclear power was left unchanged at 20-22%, and the notation related to new expansion and rebuilding of nuclear power plants was postponed. Behind the significant increase in the proportion of renewable energy such as solar power is the rapid progress of efforts toward decarbonization in the international community. 


In April of this year, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also declared a goal to reduce GHG emissions in 2030 by 46% compared to FY2013. Since this became an international commitment, it became essential to promote the introduction of renewable energy in the revised proposal.


On the other hand, in order to provide a stable supply of energy, if we rely too much on renewable energy such as solar power, whose power generation depends on the weather conditions, it may lead to unexpected situations such as power outages. “It tends to be biased toward renewable energy, and it is better to clarify the position of the nuclear power policy," said an energy analyst in Tokyo.


In order to keep pace with the U.S. administration of Biden, which is promoting nuclear power policy, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party  (LDP) in Japan began to mention the need for new expansion and rebuilding, not just restarting nuclear power plants this spring. 


Hiroyuki Hosoda, the former secretary-general of the LDP, who is the chairman of the parliamentary group, said that there is a problem with the stable supply of electricity in renewable energy, and said that nuclear power plants must be utilized to achieve the 46% target.


In addition, the Liberal Democratic Party launched the "Latest Nuclear Replacement Promotion Council for the Realization of a Decarbonized Society and the Maintenance and Improvement of National Power" in mid-April, and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others were appointed as advisors.


After the accident at the Fukushima No 1 Nuclear Power Station in March 2011, 24 of the 60 nuclear power plants in Japan were decommissioned. Currently, 33 units (3 units are under construction) still exist, but only 10 units are restarting.


If we consider the power source composition as a real problem rather than the pros and cons of nuclear power plants, it is extremely unlikely that we can achieve carbon neutrality in 2050 by ignoring the nature of nuclear power plants.


Although the words and actions of politicians involved in the nuclear power policy have become conspicuous, the wind direction has changed, as the LDP candidate's seat acquisition has been sluggish in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election held in early July. 


Regarding the measures against the new coronavirus and the pros and cons of holding the Tokyo Olympics, the approval rating for the Suga administration has declined, and it is judged that the nuclear power policy, which is unpopular with the people, will work against the general election for the members of the Diet who are preparing for the election. As a result, the revised proposal did not include the notation related to the new expansion or rebuilding of nuclear power plants, as mentioned before.


The above energy analyst said, "Because the general election is imminent, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is arguing that politicians have pressured them not to make (nuclear power policy) an issue. I wanted them to make a plan based on a long-term vision. "


The new basic energy plan is expected to be decided by the Cabinet meeting in September, based on hearings from energy experts.


Naoya Abe

Tokyo bureau chief at Capitol Intelligence Group (Washington D.C.)

Former correspondent at Bloomberg News