Japanese planning downgrades nuclear, ups LNG

02 June 2016, Week 21 Issue 420

Japan will cut its planned reliance on nuclear power under an updated energy scheme, which may be published in 2017, Reuters reported last week, citing three sources familiar with the matter. The move reflects public opposition in Japan over restarting more nuclear power plants (NPPs) following the March 2011 tsunami and ensuing Fukushima disaster, which led to the country’s reactors being shut down.

Public resistance to nuclear power has remained strong in Japan. A target by the pro-nuclear industry ministry for nuclear to provide about one fifth of the country’s electricity provoked widespread criticism when it was finalised in 2015, the report said. The new move to cut reliance on nuclear power will also have an impact on Japan’s use of renewable energy, coal and LNG.

Prior to the 2011 nuclear incident, Japan had one of the most balanced power generation fuel mixes among the world’s top electricity consumers, according to Japan Electric Power Information Center (JEPIC). No single fuel source accounted for more than 30% of the total energy mix, in a country that had 286 GW of total installed electricity generating capacity in 2011. 

However, following the removal of nuclear generation, the thermal power ratio, which includes LNG and oil, increased to approximately 90%. LNG accounted for about half of that power generation. 

Only two of the country’s nearly 50 reactors are operating following safety shutdowns, while the industry faces a raft of constraints, including ageing units and legal challenges. One of the sources told Reuters that a target of 10-15% for nuclear by 2030 had been mooted, down from 20-22% under the current policy.

Any reductions to nuclear targets are likely to be resisted by the powerful utilities. Some, though, have already acted to close ageing plants, with six units slated for decommissioning in the past 12 months. A Reuters analysis from 2015 showed that of the reactors still idled, just seven were likely to be turned on in the next few years.