EDITORIAL | Make communities understand the urgency of new nuclear power plants

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There has been a major shift in the energy and nuclear policy of the Japanese government. We hope this will pave the way for the government to ensure a stable supply of electricity using nuclear energy.

At a meeting of the Green Transformation Implementation Council on August 24, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed his government to consider the development and construction of next-generation nuclear power plants.

So far, the Japanese government has reiterated its position that it has no plans to build new nuclear power plants or replace old ones. Kishida’s announcement of next-generation power plants therefore signals a major shift in policy – and the move is a welcome one.

In response to the severe electricity crisis in Japan, the Prime Minister also expressed his intention to restart seven existing nuclear power plants from 2023. The rapid recovery of these plants is essential for the electricity supply of the east of the Japan.

For plants that have passed safety inspections by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority but have not yet received approval from local communities, the government should take the lead in seeking their understanding and consent.

Chart: An option in Japan’s next-generation nuclear power HTTR

Main challenges: carbon neutrality, energy, security

The Green Transformation Council has identified key decarbonization challenges and other issues that need to be addressed to achieve carbon neutrality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, by 2050. Building power plants next-generation nuclear power was brought closer to reality when Kishida raised it as a mid-term goal from 2030.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has just drawn up a development plan for new generation nuclear power plants with enhanced safety.

But the sixth strategic energy plan, approved by the Cabinet in 2021, did not include the construction of nuclear power plants. The clear change in policy should pave the way for the development of next-generation nuclear power plants for practical use.

The Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant is inactive, despite a good safety review.

Eastern Japan in dire need of electricity

The government also plans to restart seven additional nuclear power plants from 2023. These include reactors No. 6 and No. 7 at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata prefecture, and the Tokai No. 2 of Japan Atomic Power Co. in Ibaraki Prefecture. But the local authorities have not yet given their agreement.

So far, 10 nuclear power plants have been restarted after passing the safety review by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority.

However, these 10 factories are located in western Japan. With no operating nuclear power plants, eastern Japan is experiencing a severe power shortage. The government must take the initiative to restart the additional reactors as soon as possible to ensure a stable electricity supply in this region.

Kishida also ordered the review of extending the operating period of existing nuclear power plants. Currently, nuclear power plants in Japan are generally allowed to operate for 40 years, with a 20-year extension allowed in some cases. This period may be extended to 60 years or more under the proposals under consideration.

The United States has already authorized its nuclear power plants to operate for up to 80 years.

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The Japanese government, while ensuring the safety of its people, must also show flexibility and adaptability.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun

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