Digital Journal, 11 April 2014
By Karen Graham
In a stunning reversal of previous government plans to mothball nuclear power plants, Japan’s cabinet on Friday approved the Basic Energy Plan, making it the first comprehensive energy policy since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown.
The plan may be too little too late for the country’s half-dead atomic energy industry, already burdened with losses estimated to be over $50 billion. Two energy companies asked for governmental help with capital last week.
While the new policy heralds the come-back of nuclear energy, the anti-nuclear opposition has been gaining support across the country, among the public and a number of political groups. Polls by several media groups have shown a large percentage of the public is against the reopening of Japan’s 50 nuclear power plants.
Plant operators have spent nearly $90 billion on replacement fossil fuels, with local media sources saying an additional $16 billion was spent on upgrades to meet new power plant guidelines. A survey done by Reuters has shown that as many as two-thirds of the country’s nuclear plants may have to remain closed because of the high cost involved in making upgrades, seismic activity or public opposition.
“It is essential to quickly recover a low-cost and stable power supply system by restarting reactors whose safety is confirmed,” Akio Mimura, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement. The new plan points out it will cut Japan’s nuclear dependency as much as possible, but fails to set specific targets for each source.
Mycle Schneider, an independent energy consultant out of Paris, France was quoted as saying, "I think it is unavoidable that the Japanese utilities will write off most of their nuclear ’assets’ and move on."
The new Basic Energy Plan defines nuclear as an "important baseload power source" but does not define the amount of "nuclear" that would be needed to feed constant power to the grid to meet minimum power requirements. Schneider says, "Given the slim realistic prospects for a major nuclear share, the challenge will be flexibility and the whole baseload concept flies out of the window."