The campaign for the election of the Upper House is in full swing. And nuclear energy as well as national energy policies have been among the top election issues raised in the debate to win over voters.
On Sunday, June 26, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) issued its first energy consumption warning. This came amid scorching temperatures and a predicted power supply crisis for the area served by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on the evening of June 27.
Reserve power capacity is expected to fall below 5%, it was announced. METI also called on businesses and consumers to reduce their electricity consumption.
The way to overcome these electric power shortages is to increase the supply of electric power by restarting inactive nuclear power plants and other proactive measures.
As the elections begin, the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai and the Democratic People’s Party (DPFP) have joined the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a public pledge to pursue the reactivation of nuclear power plants after verifying their safety.
They must now specify the specific measures they would take to ensure a regular supply of electric power sufficient to meet the needs of citizens in their daily lives as well as to support the needs of industry.
Making nuclear energy a reality
During the June 21 open forum which brought together leaders of different parties, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was asked how he planned to deal with the electricity shortage situation. The prime minister – who is also chairman of the LDP – said all options should be seriously considered to encourage businesses and households to save energy.
We should judge Kishida’s remarks as reflecting a startling lack of sense of crisis.
The government is taking steps to subsidize consumers and businesses, for example by setting up mechanisms for awarding points to energy-efficient families and buying back units of energy saved by businesses.
With soaring global energy prices, families and businesses are seeing their electricity bills rise. Reducing energy consumption, at best, can only reduce their energy bills from this part.
However, these energy savings will not be enough to allow us to overcome the electric power crisis we are facing. Nor will it provide a fundamental solution to our insufficient supply of electric power.
The current shortfall in electric power can be attributed to factors such as the long delay in restarting power plants. The suspension or elimination of thermoelectric power stations and the liberalization of the electricity market are also components of this, as well as the trend towards decarbonisation.
It is clear that the electricity supply crisis can only be alleviated if we steadily increase our electricity supply through stable investments in nuclear power and thermal power generation.
Get clarification on solutions
However, no clear prescription for improvement can be found in the public commitments of the political parties mentioned above. Of the 33 nuclear power plants currently in existence in Japan, only 10 have passed safety inspections and received regulatory clearance to return to service. And only 4 of them are in service today.
The actual situation in no way corresponds to the PLD’s call for “maximum use of nuclear energy”.
These delays in restarting nuclear power plants are largely due to the fact that safety inspections by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ANR) proceeded at a snail’s pace.
Nuclear power plants are essential not only because they are carbon-free energy sources that generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases, but also because they provide a stable supply of energy.
Prime Minister Kishida said that “more efficiency is needed” for inspections of nuclear power plants. However, the discussion should clarify exactly how we can speed up inspections and make them more efficient.
Weather dependent energy is not stable
Meanwhile, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and some other opposition parties continue to call for decarbonization while emphasizing the expansion of renewable energy sources. Such policies will not solve Japan’s electricity deficit or ensure a stable electricity supply.
Does CDP really approve of becoming dependent on a fragile framework for electricity that depends solely on saving energy? Voters should carefully consider the policies proposed by the various political parties.
The CDP and some of the other opposition parties are also calling for getting rid of nuclear energy, with the ultimate goal of creating a “society that will not depend on nuclear energy”.
To do this, they call for the expansion of solar power and other renewable energy sources to replace nuclear power and thermal power generation. However, in March 2022, when the first power supply tightness warning was issued for eastern Japan, the weather was so bad that solar power generation facilities could not operate.
These parties should set practical policies regarding things like how electrical power should be secured in situations like this.
Winter is coming
The government predicts that the electricity shortage will become even more critical in the winter of 2022-2023 than in the summer. It even predicts that during the period January-February 2023, the reserve power supply capacity ratio will become negative.
If electricity becomes unavailable during the winter, it will certainly have a serious impact on the living conditions and health of the population. It is imperative that Japan recognizes today that it is approaching a serious electric power crisis.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, efforts to ensure energy security accelerated around the world. This is especially true for Japan due to its dependence on imports of natural resources from abroad.
At the same time, Japan and its G7 partners decided to ban oil and coal imports from Russia. In the future, the repercussions of these developments will inevitably also affect the LNG market. It is therefore all the more urgent for us to diversify our suppliers and prepare for unexpected emergencies.
This Upper House election is an opportunity to reconsider our energy policies, which have become biased towards decarbonization in order to prevent global warming. More than anything else, we desperately need a balanced composition for our energy resources. This means that it takes into account multiple perspectives, including security and energy costs.
In order to achieve this goal, while bearing in mind the current electric power crisis, we must carefully scrutinize the public promises made by the various political parties which, too often, are nothing more than rhetoric idealist destined to win votes.
(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun