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Japan Adopts New Plans to Maximize Nuclear Power to Address Energy and Climate

On December 22, 2022, Japan adopted a new policy to promote greater use of nuclear energy to ensure a stable supply of power amidst global shortages of fuel and reduce carbon emissions. It is a major reversal of its phase-out plan since the Fukushima crisis.

The new policy says that Japan needs to maximize the utilization of existing nuclear reactors by restarting as many of them as possible, prolonging the operating lives of the old reactors beyond their 60-year limit, and developing new reactors to replace them.

After the 2011 Fukushima crisis, anti-nuclear sentiments and safety concerns rose sharply in Japan, and restart approval has since come slowly under stricter safety standards. In the past decades, utility companies have applied for restarts at 27 reactors. Out of these, seventeen have passed the safety checks, and only 10 have resumed operations. That was in line with earlier plans by Japan to phase out nuclear energy by 2030.

In a reversal of this, the new policy says that nuclear power provides stable services and outputs. It has an important role as a carbon-free baseload energy source in order to achieve supply stability and carbon neutrality. It has further pledged to sustain the use of nuclear power in the future. The policy papers say that Japan will further push for the development and construction of next-generation innovative reactors equipped with safety features to replace about 20 reactors now set for decommissioning.

The adoption of the new policy on Thursday comes less than four months after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida launched the GX (Green Transformation) Implementation Council of ministers and outside experts to consider every option and compile a new policy that will help address the global fuel shortage amidst Russia’s war on Ukraine and strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The council has also adopted plans to make renewables Japan’s primary energy source, as well as to promote additional ammonia and hydrogen, offshore wind power, and other forms of energy to promote supply resilience, decarbonization, and economic security. Shinichi Yamanaka, the regulation authority’s commissioner, told a news conference that the new safety rules that are required for operational permits every year after decades of 30 years will be safer than the current one-time 20-year extension option for the 40-year-old reactors.