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Japan pushes renewables, keeps nuclear in energy plan through 2050

In this July 12, 2017 file photo, wind turbines are seen in Wakamatsu Ward in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan will accelerate the development of renewable energy and keep its current policy of lowering its dependence on nuclear power as it aims for a low-carbon society, a government panel report on the country's energy plan through 2050 showed Tuesday.

    The long-term policy comes as Japan lags behind the global trend to invest in renewables, and nuclear power is no longer deemed a cheap energy source in the wake of the core reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011, with utilities required to invest massively to meet tougher safety regulations.

    "Japan will keep the policy of lowering its dependency on nuclear power generation as much as possible while seeking to expand economically independent and carbon-free renewable energy," the report by the eight-member panel said. The members include scholars and business executives.

    The report did not set out numerical percentages of the country's future energy mix in 2050. An official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said it is hard to predict a specific energy scenario as it depends on how technological developments in energy sources progress.

    The most recent targets set out in 2015 seek to have renewable sources account for 22 to 24 percent and nuclear 20 to 22 percent of electric power generation in fiscal 2030.

    Under the 2015 Paris climate accord, Japan aims for an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from 2013 levels.

    The report acknowledged that while there have been global movements to phase out nuclear power following the Fukushima crisis, efforts have also been made to enhance the "safety, economic feasibility and mobility" of nuclear power generation.

    Japan should first regain public trust in nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster, triggered by the March 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami, and strive to "strengthen personnel, technology and industry base" in pursuit of nuclear reactors with enhanced safety, the report stated.

    "There have been concerns that our country's high-level nuclear technology and personnel will be lost following the Fukushima crisis. The panel members pointed out the need to maintain them to enhance safety of nuclear reactors," the ministry official said.

    The official said the report puts an emphasis on the development of renewable energy out of a "sense of crisis," with the country currently slow to invest in such energies.

    "Honestly speaking, Japan does not have competent companies in the field of renewable energy and we rely heavily on imports of renewable technology, such as solar panels. The panel is concerned Japan should recoup in the long-term," the official said.

    Noting that output of solar and wind power generation tends to be influenced by the weather, the panel called for the development of batteries to store surplus renewable energy and converting it to hydrogen.

    As for thermal power generation, the report said it will remain a major power source in 2050 but inefficient coal plants should be phased out with more focus on gas plants.

    The report is set to be reflected in a separate government energy plan through 2030 that is due to be finalized this summer.

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