Japan plans carbon emission cuts, more nuclear energy


Japan is calling for further efforts to cut carbon emissions by promoting renewables but also nuclear energy despite the 2011 Fukushima reactors meltdowns.

The energy white paper, adopted by the Cabinet Friday, said Japan faces an “urgent task” of reducing carbon emissions coming from utilities that have relied heavily on fossil fuels to make up for shortages of cleaner nuclear energy. The call comes as the Fukushima nuclear reactors are slowly being restarted amid lingering anti-nuclear sentiments since the 2011 crisis.

Japan wants further development of renewable energy and set a 22 per cent to 24 per cent target while maintaining nuclear energy at around the same level. It also pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 26 per cent from 2013 levels by 2030.

So far it has achieved a 7 per cent reduction and is making progress but needs more effort, the paper said. It said the cost of renewables also needs to come down.

While the renewables account for 16 per cent of Japan’s energy supply, nuclear energy remained at just 3 per cent in 2017, compared to the target of 20 per cent to 22 per cent, according to the paper. Coal and natural gas accounted for 74 per cent.

Before the 2011 quake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s cooling systems and sent three of its reactors into meltdowns, nuclear energy made up about one-third of Japan’s energy supply.

Despite the government’s nuclear energy ambitions, reactor restarts are coming slowly as nuclear regulators spend more time on inspections under stricter post-Fukushima standards, while utility companies have opted to scrap aged reactors instead of investing in additional safety measures.

The slow reactor resumptions have added to Japan’s large plutonium stockpile problem that has become an issue of international concern. Japan, which is stuck with 47 tons of plutonium stockpile from spent fuel, has resorted to burning it in conventional reactors to reduce the amount after the country’s fuel recycling program has stalled.

But the amount is not decreasing, and experts are now calling for more drastic steps to get rid of it amid criticism that Japan’s plutonium makes Tokyo’s calls for nuclear non-proliferation less credible.

About 37 tons of spent fuel is kept in France and Britain where it has been reprocessed since Japan lacks the capability to do it at home. The total is enough to make 6,000 atomic bombs, though the main reprocessing plant at Rokkasho says the material is under close monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency and there is no risk of proliferation.