Japan’s concern of carbon neutrality: Additional nuclear plants or more renewables?

With Japan committed to being carbon neutral by the year 2050, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration is wrestling with core concerns on undertaking near-term steps to meet the long-term target. In turn, that has sparked a debate about whether the best way to deliver clean, stable, reliable, and green energy supplies by the mid of century is to offer more solar energy or even more nuclear power. The latest energy strategy, approved by the Cabinet in 2018 July, aims for between 22 percent and 24 percent of Japan’s electricity to be generated by renewable energies by 2030 as well as between 20 percent and 22 percent for the nuclear energy.

The government declared on December 25 that it was planning to provide between 50 percent and 60 percent of the country’s electricity by the year 2050 with green energies, almost a three-fold improvement from current usage. It is estimated that nuclear power, as well as fossil fuels utilizing carbon capture and recycling, will account for 30 to 40 percent, with hydrogen making up most of the remaining. Despite demands to increase the share of green energy sources, even more, the aim is to retain nuclear power as the critical energy source.

“In October, when unveiling the 2050 carbon-neutral goal, Suga stated, “We will create a secure supply of energy by deeply conserving energy as well as incorporating renewable energies to the maximum extent possible, and advancing our nuclear energy strategy with the primary concern on protection. Nuclear power can add to the energy sector’s stabilization and economic performance, which are essential for decarbonization. As Shiro Arai, President of Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, said in response to Suga’s comment, the nuclear industry will aim to consistently enhance the safety and reliable activity of nuclear power production.

While nuclear proponents hope the advent of advanced technology in the coming decades would make plants more productive and guarantee a reliable and cheap supply of energy, the sector faces a mountain of concerns and questions. Although the state’s official strategy is to reopen as many nuclear plants as practicable, it could prove impossible to do this for four significant reasons: the need for security improvements, aging reactors undergoing decommissioning, nuclear waste disposal, and increasing demands for renewable energy. How these particular challenges are tackled in the coming years will affect the share of nuclear power in the energy mix and the broader attempt to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2050.