Japan is moving towards more nuclear power – the IEA says it’s good news

This image, taken from March 2022, shows a wind turbine in front of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. The country now plans to use more nuclear energy in the coming years.

Corkor | istock | Getty Images

The International Energy Agency has welcomed Japanese plans to return to using more nuclear power, with one of the organization’s directors telling CNBC that it represents “very good and encouraging news.”

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister of Japan said his country Restart more decommissioned nuclear power plants and consider the feasibility of developing next-generation reactors. Fumio Kishida comments, reported by Reuters, Based on the observations made by Back in May.

It comes at a time when Japan – a major energy importer – is looking to strengthen its options amid ongoing uncertainty in global energy markets and the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Talk to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” Thursday morning, Keisuke Sadamori, director of the International Energy Agency’s Office of Energy Markets and Security, was positive about Japan’s strategy.

“This is… very good and encouraging news in terms of energy supply security and climate change mitigation,” he said, adding that Japan has been “burning a lot of fossil fuels in order to bridge the gap caused by the lack of nuclear power ever since.” Fukushima accident…”.

Sadamuri explained that fossil fuel markets, particularly natural gas markets, were “very narrow,” noting that this was particularly the case in Europe.

“Restarting Japanese nuclear power plants will be good in terms of releasing a large amount[s] From LNG to the global market.

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Sadamori, who previously held positions at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and was an executive assistant to a former Japanese prime minister in 2011, was asked about the time frame for building new nuclear plants.

He replied that new buildings would take a long time. “I understand that… Prime Minister Kishida’s announcement yesterday was more focused on new types of nuclear power plants, including SMRs – small modular reactors.”

“They are basically still in the development stage, so… we need to accelerate these developments,” he added. He said that the most important aspects are restarting the existing factories and extending the life of the existing ones.

big shift

If fully realized, Japan’s planned moves would mark a shift in the country’s energy policy after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, when a powerful earthquake and tsunami led to the collapse of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Given its recent history, Sadamori of the International Energy Agency was asked about current public sentiment in Japan toward nuclear power. “This is the hardest part,” he said, adding that Japanese people still have some concerns about safety.

Citing “difficult energy market conditions” as well as “a very tight electricity market,” Sadamori said the general sentiment in the country nonetheless is “changing a little bit.”

“We are seeing more people supporting the restart of nuclear power plants, based on…recent surveys by major Japanese newspapers,” he added.

“So I consider things to be improving a little bit, but I think … the issue of public and local acceptance is still a very difficult part of nuclear restart.”

The importance of public support was emphasized in the outlines of Japan’s Sixth Strategic Energy Plan. The document states that “the stable use of nuclear energy will be promoted on the basis of the main premise that it is necessary to gain public confidence in nuclear energy and to ensure safety.”

Japan is targeting carbon neutrality by 2050. Under an “ambitious outlook”, its energy strategic plan envisages that renewables will make up 36% to 38% of its power generation mix in 2030, with nuclear power responsible for 20% to 22%.

While Japan may refocus its attention on nuclear power, the technology is not favored by everyone.

Among the critics is Greenpeace. “Nuclear power is touted as a solution to our energy problems, but it is actually very complex and expensive to build,” the environmental organization’s website states.

“It also produces huge amounts of hazardous waste,” he adds. “Renewable energy is cheaper and can be installed quickly. Combined with battery storage, it can generate the energy we need and reduce our emissions.”

During his interview with CNBC, Sadamori was asked why focusing on renewables and directing investment toward these areas is less viable for Japan than a return to nuclear power.

He said the country has “very ambitious programs to expand renewable energy sources”. These included solar PV and wind energy, especially offshore wind.

While Europe has “huge” offshore wind resources, Japan has been “less gifted… with good renewable resources in this regard.”

To this end, nuclear power, and in particular the active use of existing plants, must be a “very important part” of a strategy to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century.

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