The Yomiuri ShimbunTo ensure a stable supply of energy, how should various power sources be combined in a balanced manner? Calm and constructive discussions are sought.
Japan’s energy policy stands at a crossroads. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, nuclear power plants were shut down. That increased the nation’s dependence on thermal power generation. Even now, thermal power accounts for more than 80 percent of Japan’s energy.
Coal-fired thermal power, which makes up about 40 percent of the nation’s total thermal power output, is inexpensive in terms of fuel, and its generation is stable. On the other hand, its greenhouse gas emissions are high. Amid growing international criticism, investment and loans for coal-fired thermal power generation have been suspended and plant construction projects have been canceled one after another. It is inevitable for this type of power generation to be scaled down.
Regarding fuel sources other than coal — liquefied natural gas and oil — the nation could have difficulty in procurement and face price hikes due to geopolitical risks such as circumstances in the Middle East.
From the viewpoint of not only the global environment but also energy security, excessive dependence on thermal power should be rectified.
A concern is how to secure an alternative power source.
In their campaign pledges for the House of Councillors election, political parties are calling for the expansion of renewable energy.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan seeks “100 percent natural power generation,” while the Democratic Party for the People advocates “introduction of renewable energy with high compatibility depending on regions.”
Low-cost nuclear power
There is no objection to promoting the use of renewable energy, but the path to making it a major power source is rough. The supply of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power is currently unstable as it is affected by weather conditions and other factors. To complement this, it is essential to provide a backup with thermal power generation.
The cost of renewable energy is also high. Under the feed-in tariff system, the burden on the public has reached ¥2.4 trillion a year.
A huge amount of money is also needed to install power transmission lines connecting suitable areas for generating electricity such as solar power, and consuming areas including large cities. To ensure a stable supply of electricity generated from renewable energy sources, it is necessary to develop low-cost, large-capacity storage batteries, among other storage means.
Given the current situation, it is difficult to make renewable energy a major power source in terms of cost and technology.
It may be realistic to use existing nuclear power plants for the time being.
The Liberal Democratic Party vows in its campaign pledge to “promote the restart of the nuclear reactors while obtaining the understanding and cooperation of relevant local governments and others.” The central government also aims to operate about 30 reactors in 2030, but the number of reactors currently in operation stands at nine.
Nuclear power is a low-cost energy source to generate and does not emit carbon dioxide. It has favorable characteristics as a basic power source. It is urged that the reactors be restarted smoothly after their safety is confirmed.
To maintain technologies and human resources, it is important to make effective use of nuclear power over the long term. Consideration should be given to building new reactors, including small modular ones which are regarded as highly safe.