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World Economic Forum: Japan Should Not Abandon Nuclear Energy

The following story originally appeared in NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview.

A new report by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum warns that Japan could put its energy security at risk if it turns its back on nuclear energy.

A case study on Japan in the report “New Energy Architecture: Enabling an Effective Transition” notes that since the Fukushima accident there has been an “unprecedented level of debate and stakeholder engagement” in Japan about the country’s energy future.

Last week at the annual meeting of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Goshi Hosono, Japan’s multi-portfolio minister for nuclear policy, said the government is reviewing its overall energy policy, including the use of nuclear power.

WEF says the results of the review could be transformative for Japan, resulting in “the most significant shocks to the sector since the response to oil shocks in the 1970s.”

Prior to the Fukushima accident, Japan had been planning to meet 60 percent of its national primary energy demand with nuclear power, in line with environmental sustainability targets to reduce its CO2 emissions by 54 percent (from 2003 levels) by 2050.

Since the accident last year, all but one of Japan’s nuclear energy facilities have shut down for a variety of reasons—as a direct result of the earthquake and tsunami, by government order, or for routine maintenance inspections.

The last reactor will shut down May 5.

Efforts by the central government to restart some of the reactors before the summer peak demand season have been running into calls for caution from local government officials. Meanwhile, to meet electricity shortfalls, Japan has been importing unprecedented amounts of coal, oil and natural gas, resulting in rising costs for consumers as well as rising carbon emissions.

The WEF report warns that a hasty withdrawal from nuclear could be disastrous for Japan.

“Decommissioning nuclear power plants is expensive and any rapid change would jeopardize Japan’s energy security and increase its dependence on fossil fuel imports. Equally, a major shift towards renewables would require a transition on a scale never seen before and necessitate vast amounts of financial investment,” the report says.

Instead of committing to reduce the nation’s dependence on nuclear energy, the report recommends the government recognize that nuclear energy “will continue to play an important role in Japan’s energy mix for the foreseeable future.” It recommends policies to rebuild the public’s faith in “both the government and the power sector,” including fundamental changes in how the country’s nuclear energy sector is run and regulated to ensure transparency and accountability.

The WEF report also urges Japan to focus on restoring a secure energy supply, including continuing research and development to build a stronger nuclear industry.

There are some signs that Japan recognizes the continuing need for nuclear energy. At the JAIF meeting last week, Minister Hosono said that in addition to the energy policy review, the country will evaluate a range of nuclear fuel cycle options, including direct disposal of used nuclear fuel and various scenarios involving reprocessing, recycling and advanced breeder reactors. A survey last week by the Japanese public broadcasting network NHK found that more than half of residents in one prefecture in western Japan support restarting two reactors there.

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