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Editorial: Japan must overhaul thinking on nuclear power in basic energy policy

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has compiled a draft revision to Japan's Basic Energy Plan, which indicates the direction of the government's energy policy.

    The revision brings our attention to the predicted ratios of various power sources in fiscal 2030.

    In order to reduce our dependence on carbon, renewable energy sources were increased from 22 to 24% three years ago to 36 to 38% in the latest draft revision.

    Some view this increase as being insufficient in making renewable energy Japan's main energy source. But we commend the willingness expressed to undertake the maximum possible implementation of renewable energy as an utmost priority.

    Meanwhile, doubts remain about the percentage of power generation comprising nuclear reactors. The new Basic Energy Plan is trying to maintain the 20 to 22% set in the 2015 revisions to the Basic Energy Plan, but that is unrealistic.

    To achieve that kind of ratio, Japan would need to be operating around 27 nuclear reactors at a high rate in fiscal 2030.

    However, since the major incident at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, only 10 nuclear reactors have resumed operations. The percentage of power generated by nuclear reactors in fiscal 2019 was a mere 6%.

    It will require extended use of dilapidated reactors that have been in operation for over 40 years, and would go against the government's policy of "reducing dependence on nuclear power as much as possible."

    We must also look squarely at the estimates of power generation costs that METI came up with for the first time in six years.

    Until now, the major grounds behind promoting and maintaining nuclear power was its low cost compared to other forms of power generation.

    But based on the latest calculations, the cheapest form of power generation in 2030 is expected to be solar power generation for commercial purposes.

    Nuclear power costs, which were estimated as being at around 5.9 yen (approx. $0.05) per kilowatt-hour before the incident, had risen to 10.3 yen (approx. $0.09) or more by 2015. Most recently, the cost of nuclear power increased to "the upper 11-yen range or more," surpassing "the lower 8-yen range to upper 11-yen range" of solar power for commercial use.

    This is due to the effects of rising costs of dealing with the aftermath of the nuclear disaster and safety measures. Going forward, it is highly likely that costs of dealing with the disaster will rise.

    Meanwhile, technology used for renewable energy such as solar and wind power has improved and because it has been implemented more widely, their costs have continued to go down.

    As long as we continue to avert our eyes from this reality and insist on going with nuclear power, we will not be able to climb out of the impasse that we are in.

    Since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to bring down greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the year 2050, the government must propose an energy strategy that aligns with that goal.

    Precisely because nuclear power is no longer the cheapest energy source, it is time for a drastic change in thinking.

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