The Sendai Nuclear Power Plant on the island of Kyushu broke a four-year lull on 11 August when it switched one of its reactors back on. The restart is the first since Japan’s nuclear-power industry ground to a halt two years ago following safety concerns in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
It will help the world’s third-largest economy to lower its carbon emissions. But the government energy plan that includes this shift in policy is much too modest if Japan is to help keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, say analysts.
But fossil fuels would still account for more than half the power generated in 2030. Nuclear and renewables would help keep carbon dioxide emissions in check, but overall emissions would be cut by only 18% from 1990 levels. The European Union, by comparison, pledged 40% cuts from 1990. “I think that the government understands and acknowledges the climate goal and tries to make its target consistent with it, but industrial and economic criteria such as lowering electricity costs are given higher priority,” says Seita Emori, who heads a climate risk-assessment team at Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba. The 2030 emissions target “doesn’t look really sufficient for the climate goal”.
The government sees an especially modest role for wind, projected to contribute only 1.7% of electricity generation by 2030. (Germany, by comparison, already derives around 8–9% of its power from wind.) Iida says there is an “irrational bias” against wind that is deep-rooted in Japan’s energy industry.
Moreover, the way Japan’s energy market is structured, with a few de facto regional monopolies, is stacked against wind, favouring instead sources that are established, such as nuclear and fossil fuels. “Power companies control both the grid and existing power plants,” says Tomas Kåberger, head of the Tokyo-based Japan Renewable Energy Foundation. Wind would take a share of the market away from the utilities’ power plants, but the same utilities could deny wind-power companies access to the grid, says Ali Izadi-Najafabadi, who heads the Tokyo office of the consulting company Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The utilities must cite “technical grounds” for such a refusal, but “there is no independent grid operator, so it’s hard to judge those technical grounds”, he says.[…]