Reactor restarts pivotal to Japan's energy policy, says IEA

22 September 2016

The restart of Japan's nuclear power reactors is "critical" to the success of the country's energy policy, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). However, it says nuclear power can only be restored provided that the highest safety standards can be met and public trust regained.

The IEA said Japan's energy policy has been dominated in recent years by its efforts to overcome the impact of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

According to the IEA, Japan's idling of its entire fleet of nuclear power plants after the accident left a gap of some 30% in electricity supply. This gap has been filled with expensive, imported fossil fuels. By the end of 2013, import dependence had risen to 94% from 80% in 2010. Meanwhile, annual emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from power generation had increased by 110 million tonnes. Electricity prices increased by 16% for households and 25% for industry. By the end of 2015, just two reactors had been restarted and accounted for 0.9% of Japan's electricity generation that year, compared with nuclear's share of 25.3% in 2010.

In April 2014, the government adopted the fourth Strategic Energy Plan (SEP) and, based on that plan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry prepared the 2015 Long-Term Energy Supply and Demand Outlook to 2030, which was adopted in July 2015. This outlook assumes Japan's nuclear generating capacity will partially be restored, reaching 20%-22% of electricity supply by 2030. The country also announced plans in late 2015 to reduce CO2 emissions by 26% from 2013 to 2030.

In its report - titled Energy Policies of IEA Countries: Japan 2016 Review - the IEA said, "The most cost-effective way to begin implementing the SEP is to restart nuclear power generation at plants that the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approves to be safe."

However, the IEA warns, "If nuclear power generation falls short of the 20%-22% target for 2030 in the 2015 Outlook, it would be very challenging to fill the gap with renewable energy alone."

The agency says it is important for Japan to re-establish its nuclear industry, "provided that safety is maintained at the highest standards possible". It suggests this restart not only depends on safety approvals, "but also on how effectively the critical issues related to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident are addressed. These issues, it says, include the decontamination and resettlement of affected areas and "the provision of appropriate compensation for the serious disruption in the lives of large numbers of citizens". Decommissioning of the damaged plant "must also continue as a high-priority project", the IEA says.

"Of all the issues that must be addressed in order to revive Japan's nuclear industry, the loss of public trust may be the most challenging to overcome," according to the agency. "It is necessary to effectively listen to and deal with questions and concerns in a way that gradually builds trust."

The IEA recommends the government ensures the NRA has all the resources required to do its "vital work". This includes retaining experienced staff, recruiting new staff and providing training to maintain expertise. It also says the government should encourage "industry efforts to benefit from international assistance".

The report also recommends the government reviews the adequacy of the existing funding arrangements to cover the costs of decommissioning reactors and continue to seek "acceptable solutions and locations" for the disposal of high-level waste.

To date, five Japanese reactors have been given final approval to restart, although two of these have remained offline due to a legal challenge. Another 20 reactors are moving through the restart process, which has been prioritised to bring on the most-needed reactors first, in the localities and prefectures more supportive of restart.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News