Nuclear is crucial for Japan to meet its climate goals, says IEA : Energy & Environment


March 04, 2021

Ten years after the March 2011 earthquake and subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant caused a major disruption of its energy supply, Japan has made visible progress towards realizing its vision of a efficient, resilient and sustainable energy system, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today. However, he warned that the country must act quickly if it is to achieve its ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Restarting its idle nuclear reactors will help it achieve this goal, the IEA said.

Speaking at a webinar today for the launch of the Paris-based organization Energy Policy Review of Japan, Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, said: “The Japanese energy sector recovered from the damage in the right way…despite the enormous damage and large-scale loss of nuclear immediately after the Fukushima accident, Japan avoided disruptions, such as It is a huge achievement because the Japanese government was nimble, acted very quickly and found different ways to get electricity.

Since 2011, Japan has undertaken major reforms of its energy market and diversified its energy mix, notes the IEA. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have declined steadily since their peak in 2013, thanks to the expansion of renewables, the restart of some nuclear reactors and energy efficiency gains. By 2018, the country’s CO2 emissions had declined to a level not seen in 2009. Reliance on fossil fuels has also declined but remains high at almost 90% of energy supply. The carbon intensity of Japan’s energy supply remains one of the highest among IEA members.

Last October, Japan’s new prime minister said the country aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The government presented its new Green growth strategy in line with carbon neutrality in 2050 in December. The strategy identifies 14 sectors with high growth potential towards the 2050 ambition. The following Strategic Energy Plan, currently under discussion, could include a revised 2030 energy mix. The government also recently announced its intention to phase out inefficient coal-fired power plants by 2030.

In his report published today, the IEA analyzes Japan’s energy challenges and recommends possible solutions to help it achieve a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future. He points out that Japan has seen continued growth of renewables in the power sector, but grid constraints have hampered investment in new projects and posed challenges to security of supply. The IEA said that creating a well-integrated national grid and taking steps to improve the operational efficiency of the electricity system will facilitate the integration of more renewable energy while strengthening the resilience of the system.

“The gradual restart of nuclear power generation, the expansion of renewables and energy efficiency gains have reduced the need for imported fossil fuels and contributed to a continued decline in greenhouse gas emissions,” indicates the IEA in the report.

“These reached an all-time high in 2013, with fossil fuels filling the void caused by the temporary shutdown of all nuclear power plants after the Fukushima accident. By 2018, GHG emissions were down 12% from to 2013, returning to the same level they had in 2009.”

However, the report warns that to reach the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, Japan will need to “significantly accelerate” the deployment of low-carbon technologies, tackle regulatory and institutional barriers and further strengthen competition in the market. its energy markets. It will also be important to develop different decarbonization scenarios, to prepare for the possibility that certain low-carbon technologies, such as nuclear, “do not develop as quickly as hoped”.

The IEA makes a number of recommendations to the Japanese government to help the country smoothly manage the transformation of its energy sector. This includes mapping energy scenarios, including roadmaps, to achieve the 2050 decarbonization target that take into account different futures for the development of its energy sources. It should also establish price signals to encourage economy-wide investment in efficient, low-carbon technologies.

The government should also encourage investment in the power grid and improve power system operations to facilitate the cost-effective integration of a greater share of variable renewable electricity sources, to achieve a diverse mix of power generation sources. low-carbon electricity and improve security of supply. In addition, it should advance the reform of the electricity and gas markets and consider making the Electricity and Gas Market Surveillance Commission a more independent regulator.

The future role of nuclear

Before the Fukushima accident, nuclear power was the largest source of carbon-free base load in Japan’s electricity mix. At that time, 54 nuclear reactors, with a capacity of 48.9 GWe, supplied about 25% of the country’s electricity. It was planned to increase the share of nuclear power generation to 50% by 2030.

5th in Japan Strategic Energy Plan of 2018 presented nuclear energy as “an important basic energy source contributing to the stability of the long-term energy supply and demand structure”. Under the plan, nuclear power is expected to reach a 20-22% share of the country’s electricity mix by 2030. According to the government, this target is achievable once about 30 of the remaining 33 nuclear reactors are in service will be returned to service and have an average capacity factor of 80%.

Japanese reactors started restarting in 2015 with a production of 9.4 TWh, or 0.9% of total electricity production. The IEA noted that as of May 2020, nine reactors had been returned to service. In 2019, nuclear power generated 63.8 TWh, or 6.4% of total electricity generation that year.

By January this year, reviews of 15 of the 33 reactors in service had been completed. Of the rest, 10 were in the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) review process and eight had not yet applied.

The IEA noted that, according to the regulations in force, the operating life of a power reactor is 40 years, with the possibility of an extension of 20 years. Japan’s entire reactor fleet will reach the end of its life before 2050. If the additional 20-year licenses were allowed for the entire current fleet, the last unit would be permanently shut down around 2070.


The report makes several recommendations relating specifically to nuclear energy. It says the Japanese government should invest the necessary human and financial resources to speed up NRA safety reviews of nuclear reactors. It should also undertake concerted efforts to foster the understanding of local communities and thus accelerate the restart of nuclear power plants whose compatibility with ANR safety rules has been confirmed. The government should consider not deducting the extended period the reactors have been offline while under review by the NRA for restarting their 40-year licenses.

To speed up and streamline decommissioning, the IEA says the government should regulate reactors scheduled for decommissioning separately from operating plants. It should also develop and implement a clear and streamlined plan for the management, interim storage and disposal of radioactive waste from plant decommissioning, in addition to fostering the development of a competitive decommissioning industry focused on market.

The government should also invest in attracting new talent to nuclear careers, thereby ensuring the NRA’s ability to carry out all safety reviews in a timely and high quality manner, as well as the long-term viability of the nuclear industry in the Japan. In addition, it should continue progress in the dismantling of the Fukushima site, investments in the social and economic recovery of the Fukushima region and the open exchange of information and lessons learned from the accident.

“I strongly believe that the policy and regulatory reforms proposed in this report can help Japan achieve its energy and climate goals while supporting its economic growth,” Birol says in the report’s foreword. “As it has done since 1974, the IEA will continue to stand with Japan as it moves forward in the process of implementing the next cycle of its national energy and climate policies, as well as on the important work that he is leading global clean energy transitions.”

Research and writing by World Nuclear News


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