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Energy policy body to think long term on global warming as nuke power casts long shadow

The No. 3 (left) and 4 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai nuclear power plant in Genkai, Saga Prefecture, are seen in this July 15, 2017 file photo. (Mainichi)

A Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry expert body convened on Nov. 28 to discuss Japan's next basic energy plan will look ahead all the way to 2050, focusing on long-term energy policies and anti-global warming measures, it has been confirmed.

The committee also looks likely to delve into whether Japan should build new nuclear reactors, as the present units inevitably reach the end of their service lives and are decommissioned.

The expert body is a subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, an advisory panel to industry minister Hiroshige Seko. Meanwhile, Seko has also made his own private "Energy josei kondankai" advisory group on energy issues an official player in the formulation of Japan's next basic energy policy, and the group has already been discussing plans looking forward to 2050.

The expert subcommittee confirmed on Nov. 28 that, beginning in spring 2018, it would begin discussions on policy goals up to 2050 based on a report set to be put together by Seko's private advisory group by the end of the current fiscal year.

The current basic energy plan includes an energy mix goal for 2030, of which 20 to 22 percent is projected to be nuclear power. If the government and power companies uphold the principle of decommissioning reactors after 40 years in service, then atomic power will only be able to cover 15 percent of Japan's energy needs by that year. However, the 20 to 22 percent goal is considered attainable if older units pass Nuclear Regulation Authority inspections for extending the life span of reactors by up to 20 years.

By 2050, however, even reactors granted two extra decades online will have hit the absolute limit of their operational lives, and decommissionings will be well under way. That being the case, if nuclear power is to retain its one-fifth share of Japan's energy mix, then new reactors will have to be built. While there is currently strong local resistance to restarting existing reactors, the industry ministry maintains that keeping nuclear power in the country's energy mix as a "stable energy source" is indispensable.

Expert subcommittee Chairman Masahiro Sakane stated at the Nov. 28 meeting, "As we will be debating (policy for) 2050, we need to seriously discuss the global warming problem." Government plans call for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by that year, and as nuclear power is a carbon-free energy source, it is thought the subcommittee will discuss building new reactors.

However, public distrust of nuclear power remains strong in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima triple meltdown, and the subcommittee is likely to be called on to tread carefully when discussing possible new reactors.

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