Japan muddles messaging on nuclear's role in carbon target

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Top Japanese government officials contradicted each other over whether new nuclear reactors are needed to meet the country’s 2050 carbon-neutral goal.

Japan isn’t currently envisioning new nuclear plants, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said to press on Wednesday (Oct 28), just a day after NHK reported the nation’s former energy and economy minister, Hiroshige Seko, said additional reactors must be considered. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that nuclear power remains an option to meet carbon goals, but didn’t specifically comment on whether the nation needs to build new units.

While atomic plants could help meet the new target, widespread public opposition because of safety concerns has stalled the return of the country’s nuclear fleet that was mostly shuttered following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Japan will need to more than quadruple the pace at which it shuts down coal plants and rapidly ramp up renewable energy capacity over the next decade to meet its new climate pledge to zero out emissions by 2050.

“Nuclear power is a large source of energy that doesn’t emit CO2,” said Seko, according to NHK. “It is important to consider building new nuclear reactors on top of safely restarting the existing ones.”

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) head Hiroshi Kajiyama said Monday construction of new nuclear plants aren’t under consideration to help meet the country’s climate targets because public trust after the 2011 disaster has yet to be restored.

Seko currently serves as upper house secretary general for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and led Meti from 2016 to 2019.

Japan has only restarted nine of its 33 operable nuclear reactors under post-Fukushima safety rules amid fierce local opposition and court battles. The world’s fifth biggest greenhouse gas emitter remains deeply reliant on coal and gas for power generation.

Some analysts have suggested that newer technologies such as small modular reactors or offshore plants could assuage public concern.

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“Nuclear remains sensitive in Japan,” said Jane Nakano, a fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. But it “merits a serious re-visit.”

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