Japan is pivoting back to nuclear after Fukushima disaster — and the IEA says it’ll help cool gas markets

This image, from March 2022, shows wind turbines in front of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Japan. The country is now planning to use more nuclear power in the coming years.

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Japan’s plans to return to using more nuclear power have been welcomed by the International Energy Agency, with one of the agency’s directors telling CNBC that it is “very good and encouraging news.”

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister of Japan Dr It will restart more idle nuclear power plants and consider the feasibility of developing next-gen reactors. Comments by Fumio Kishida, As reported by Reuters, Based on his comments Back in May.

They come at a time when Japan – a major importer of energy – is looking to expand its options amid uncertainty in global energy markets and wars between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.” On Thursday morning, Keisuke Sadamori, who is director of the IEA’s Office for Energy Markets and Security, was positive about Japan’s policy.

“This … is very good and encouraging news in terms of energy supply security and climate change mitigation,” he said, adding that Japan is “burning a lot of fossil fuels to fill the void of nuclear energy shortages. The Fukushima … accident.”

The fossil fuel market, particularly the natural gas market, was “very tight,” Sadamori explained, particularly in Europe.

“This restart of the Japanese nuclear power plants will be good in terms of freeing up a lot.[s] LNG in the global market,” he said.

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Sadamori, who previously held positions at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and was executive assistant to the former Japanese prime minister in 2011, was asked about the timeline for the construction of new nuclear plants.

A new build, he replied, would take too long. “I understand that … Prime Minister Kishida’s announcement yesterday was more focused on new types of nuclear power plants, including SMRs – small modular reactors.”

“They are still, basically, in the development phase, so … we need to accelerate those developments,” he added. Reintroducing existing vegetation and extending the life of existing vegetation were more important aspects, he argued.

A big shift

If fully realized, the moves planned by Japan would change the country’s energy policy after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, when a powerful earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Given its recent history, the IEA’s Sadamori was asked about current public sentiment toward nuclear weapons in Japan. “This is the hardest part,” he said, adding that the Japanese still have some concerns about security.

Citing “difficult energy market conditions” as well as Japan’s “very tight electricity market,” Sadamori said public sentiment in the country is “changing a little.”

“We are seeing more people supporting restarting nuclear power plants, … based on recent polls by major Japanese newspapers,” he added.

“So I think things are improving a little bit, but I think … the public, local acceptance issue is still a very difficult part of a nuclear restart.”

The importance of public support is emphasized in the outline of Japan’s 6th Strategic Energy Plan. “The sustainable use of nuclear energy will be promoted on the main premise that public confidence in nuclear energy should be increased and safety should be maintained,” it said.

Japan is targeting carbon neutrality by 2050. Under an “ambitious approach”, its strategic energy plan calls for renewables to account for 36% to 38% of the power generation mix in 2030, with nuclear power accounting for 20% to 22%.

Although Japan is focusing its attention on nuclear weapons, the technology is not to everyone’s liking.

Critics include Greenpeace. “Nuclear power has been touted as a solution to our energy problems, but actually producing it is complex and hugely expensive,” the Environment Agency website states.

“It also generates a large amount of hazardous waste,” it adds. “Renewable energy is cheap and can be installed quickly. With battery storage, it can generate the power we need and reduce our emissions.”

During his interview with CNBC, Sadamori was asked why focusing on renewable sources and directing investment to such areas is less viable for Japan than a return to nuclear.

The country has “very ambitious programs for the expansion of renewable sources,” he said. These included solar photovoltaics and wind, particularly offshore wind.

While Europe had “a large amount” of offshore wind resources, Japan was “less endowed with good renewable resources in that respect”.

To this end, nuclear energy, particularly the active use of existing plants, should be a “very important part” of the strategy to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century.

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