Japan OK plans to push clean energy and nuclear to reduce carbon

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan on Friday adopted a new energy policy that promotes nuclear and renewables as clean energy sources to deliver on the country’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The new Core Energy Plan, adopted by Cabinet just in time for the climate summit in early November, calls for a drastic increase in the use of renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel consumption over the next decade as that Japan is striving to meet its ambitious emissions reduction target.

Japan has yet to decide what to do with its nuclear industry since the Fukushima power plant disaster in 2011. It now says reactor restarts are key to meeting emissions targets as Japan tries to step up the global effort against climate change.

The 128-page plan compiled by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry says Japan should set ambitious targets for hydrogen and ammonia, carbon recycling and nuclear power. It also calls for promoting offshore wind energy and the use of rechargeable batteries which have growth potential.

“We will mobilize all options” to meet the emissions target, the plan says, adding that “stable, low-cost energy supply is a prerequisite.”

The changes to the plan aim to meet the carbon emissions reduction target announced in April by former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. His successor, Fumio Kishida, a proponent of restarting nuclear power plants, took office this month.

Japan has pledged to cut emissions by 46% from 2013 levels, down from an earlier target of 26%, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Japan says it would try to push the reduction as far as 50% to be in line with the European Union’s commitment. China has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060.

The energy plan says renewables should make up 36-38% of electricity supply in 2030, up from the current target of 22-24%, and that newly introduced fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia should represent 1%.

The fossil fuel use target has been reduced from 56% to 41% in 2030. The plan says Japan will reduce its dependence on fossil fuels without setting a deadline. He said Japan would abide by the Group of Seven’s commitment earlier this year to stop providing foreign aid to coal-fired generation projects that lack emission reduction measures.

The 2050 emissions-free goal has prompted calls to speed up the restart of nuclear power plants. Progress towards reducing Japan’s dependence on fossil fuels has been hampered by the prolonged shutdown of most of its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

The plan keeps the target for nuclear energy unchanged at 20-22%. Japan says it aims to reduce its dependence on nuclear power as much as possible, but that nuclear power will remain an important energy source. Experts say a phase-out is unlikely anytime soon.

Economy and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda said “drastic energy conservation, maximum promotion of renewable energy and safe restart of nuclear reactors” are essential.

Japan will continue its nuclear fuel reprocessing cycle, in which spent nuclear fuel is converted into plutonium, despite the failure of its Monju plutonium reactor and international concerns over safeguards for its plutonium stockpile.

A government task force will “speed up” reactor restarts, which were slowed by tougher safety standards set after the Fukushima meltdowns, the plan says.

He did not mention the possibility of new reactors, despite calls from some industry officials and pro-nuclear lawmakers. Japan is continuing research and development of small modular reactors, or SMRs, seen as clean, affordable and safer nuclear power options in the future.

The atomic energy goal will be difficult to achieve due to lingering anti-nuclear sentiment among the public and longer security checks by authorities. The energy plan did not give any quantified target, but experts say the 20-22% target would require restarting around 30 reactors.

Twenty-four of Japan’s 54 functioning reactors were slated for decommissioning after the Fukushima disaster, as utility companies opted to scrap old reactors rather than invest heavily in additional safety measures required by stricter post-Fukushima standards. Only 10 reactors have restarted in the past decade.

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