Industry ministry panel presents 5 options for nuclear dependence ratio in 2030

May 25, 2012

Japan, according to an industry ministry panel, faces five stark choices in deciding what proportion of electricity will be generated by nuclear power in 2030.

The options range from zero to 35-percent dependence, which presupposes building new nuclear reactors.

The Noda administration will have to choose an option and define it as a government goal when it draws up a new "basic energy plan" this summer.

The Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy presented its proposals on May 24.

Given Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's pledge to reduce the nation's reliance on nuclear energy, some panel members objected to including the 35-percent option.

The panel is expected to continue its discussions and fine-tune the list when it next convenes on May 28.

A presentation will then be made to the government's Energy and Environment Council, comprising Cabinet ministers with relevant portfolios. The Energy and Environment Council has responsibility for setting the government's goal on energy policy this summer.

The 25 members of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee sharply differ on the merits of nuclear power in the aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year.

They presented a range of perspectives on the breakdown of power generation by energy source in 2030, including the proportion of nuclear power. Those ideas have since been narrowed to the five options.

A tug-of-war marked the panel discussions May 24 as members argued over whether the 35-percent scenario should be included.

Ten or so panel members who support a full phaseout of nuclear energy called for the option to be scrapped. They argued that increasing the nation's dependence on nuclear energy from the 26 percent in fiscal 2010 ran counter to the government's pledge to scale back its reliance.

For example, Hisa Anan, secretary-general of Consumers Japan, said, "(The 35-percent option) goes against lowering dependence, so it should be excluded."

Isao Sugaya, an assistant general secretary of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), said the option "should not be given equal ground" even if it remains on the board.

Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, was flabbergasted that the option even came up.

"Who dares to present such an option while pledging to lower the nation's dependence?" he asked.

But several pro-nuclear panel members would not be swayed.

"I think it is better to include the 35-percent scenario, partly from the viewpoint of providing the public with fodder for discussions," said Masakazu Toyoda, chairman and CEO of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, and formerly an official at the industry ministry.

"Our panel is entitled to make free discussions irrespective of government policies," said Satoru Tanaka, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo.

Yuko Sakita, a counselor on environmental issues, noted that the 35-percent figure is lower than a projection in the government's current basic energy plan, which says nuclear power will account for 45 percent of electricity output in 2030. "That's an option we have to think about," she said. "What's the problem with presenting it to society?"

Those opinions resonate with arguments being made in the industry ministry, which partly accounts for the 35-percent scenario remaining as an option.

"The future with regard to energy policy is uncertain," said one senior ministry official. "It's better to leave a broad range of options."

With the Noda administration expected to pick one of the five scenarios to determine the government's goal for 2030, one panel member said discussions will likely revolve around the 15-percent option.

That would represent a compromise of sorts as it lies between a phaseout and partial promotion of the use of nuclear energy.

The 15-percent scenario was added to the list of options only during a meeting on May 22. The underlying idea is scrapping nuclear reactors after 40 years of service, in principle, would lower the ratio of nuclear energy to 15 percent in 2030, before it finally drops to zero.

The 15-percent option may, therefore, pave the way for a phaseout of nuclear power as long as the government commits itself to continue decommissioning reactors into the future.

But to show consideration for opinions that nuclear power generation should be maintained, the 15-percent scenario carried a caveat. It left open the proportion of nuclear power after 2030, saying further discussions would be needed.

Some panel members criticized the 15-percent scenario, saying it simply postponed making a major decision.

(This article was written by Toru Nakagawa and Mari Fujisaki.)

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