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Editorial: Gov't energy plan inflexibility on nuclear, renewables reveals lack of vision

The government has unveiled its revised basic energy plan, though its core elements concerning the ratio of Japan's electricity needs to be supplied by nuclear power and renewables by fiscal 2030 has not changed from the plan adopted three years ago.

In that three years, conditions surrounding energy production have changed drastically both inside and outside Japan, so it is very difficult to understand why the government has chosen to simply maintain course.

The energy plan calls for 20-22 percent of Japan's energy mix to be made up of nuclear power in 2030, with renewables accounting for 22-24 percent -- just as the 2015 version did. However, while Japan has been marking time, other advanced nations have been moving fast to expand solar and other renewable power generation. The reason is simple: measures to combat global warming simply cannot wait.

The latest Japanese energy plan shows that the government is consider measures to help prevent global warming. It is likely for that reason that renewables are given pride of place as a "main energy source." If that is truly the case, then it would be natural to up the renewable energy ratio target, but the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has not done this, displaying its stubbornness. The ministry says raising the target is difficult because renewable energy is expensive and unstable.

However, renewable energy already makes up about 15 percent of Japan's electricity production. The big utilities have also been expanding their renewable generation base as electricity market liberalization has spurred competition. Keeping the 2030 renewables target as-is could discourage this trend.

We must also question the continuing role projected for nuclear power. Around 30 reactors would be required to fill 20-22 percent of Japan's energy needs as laid out in the plan, but only eight are now back in operation following the shutdowns after the triple-meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Serious questions are being raised over the economic viability of nuclear plants, as is shown by the fact that Kansai Electric Power Co. decided last year to decommission two of its larger reactors. Even experts are shaking their heads in doubt at the energy plan's targets for nuclear power generation.

The energy plan also declares Japan will "reduce its dependence on nuclear power to the greatest possible degree." However, at the same time it also calls for "the pursuit of safe, economical and flexible reactors," hinting at new nuclear plants in the future to make sure atomic power can reach its 2030 energy mix target.

From the beginning of the basic energy plan review process in summer last year, the economy ministry has stated that the "framework of the plan does not need to be changed." Public opinion is split on the necessity of nuclear power in Japan, but the ministry sounds like it simply wanted to avoid political debate on the issue.

However, is it not the government's role to overcome problems like these and present a vision for the future? We must say that the government's answer to this question on energy has put the cart before the horse.

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