Japan is shaping its energy future by reprioritizing nuclear

The priority given to nuclear power by Japan is struggling to convince in a country still traumatized by the Fukushima disaster in 2011. “How can you forget Fukushima? », regretted on July 22 Hiromi Ishii, who had had to leave her house after the destruction of the nuclear power station, during a demonstration against the return in force of the atom in the energy strategy of the archipelago.

On December 22, Mr.me Ishiii took part in a new rally in front of the offices of the Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, against his decision to validate the new orientations for nuclear power proposed by the executive commission in charge of the green transition, called GX. Set up in July to think about ways to achieve the objectives of reducing emissions by 46% by 2030 (compared to 2013 levels) and carbon neutrality by 2050, the GX considers nuclear “an energy source that contributes to energy security and is efficient for decarbonization”.

The commission calls for optimizing the use of reactors by restarting as many as possible. Before the Fukushima disaster, fifty-four reactors generated 30% of Japan’s electricity. All were arrested after the tragedy, and new safety standards were established. Today, ten of the thirty-nine reactors have obtained authorization to restart and are in service. Seventeen others are awaiting restart authorization. Some that have passed security inspections cannot be relaunched due to opposition from local populations.

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In the 2021 financial year ending at the end of March, nuclear energy provided only 6.9% of the country’s electricity, while the government is aiming for a share of 20% to 22% for nuclear power in the electricity mix in by 2030. Renewable energies generated 20.3% and this share should increase to 36% in 2030.

Dependent on fossil fuels

The other recommendation of the GX is to extend the life of the oldest reactors. After Fukushima, the government had limited their use to forty years, with a possible extension of twenty years. Operators will now be able to apply for ten-year extensions of reactors that are 30 years old or more. Periods spent offline should no longer be counted to calculate their aging.

Finally, the new policy provides for the construction of “new generation innovative reactors” to replace the twenty units to be dismantled. In October, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) detailed the design of the SRZ-1200 pressurized water reactor. Its rival, Hitachi GE Nuclear Energy, is working on a similar model. The two groups are also interested in small modular units with a maximum power of 300 megawatts, as well as very high temperature nuclear reactors, VHTRs, and fast neutron reactors.

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