The government said Saturday it would go ahead with planned work to complete three new nuclear power reactors, despite saying a day earlier it would phase out nuclear power generation by 2040.
The construction of the reactors at three different plants was suspended after a massive earthquake and tsunami sparked the Fukushima nuclear crisis on March 11 last year—the worst such accident in a generation.
“We don’t intend to withdraw the permission that has already been given by the ministry,” Yukio Edano, the minister of economy, trade and industry, said on Saturday as he met local administrators in Aomori, according to reports.
Two of the reactors are located at plants in Aomori while the third is in Shimane Prefecture.
Edano added, however, that the start-up of the reactors would be subject to approval by a newly created government commission to regulate nuclear power.
Japan is expected on Friday to propose abandoning nuclear power by the 2030s, a major shift from policy goals set before last year’s Fukushima disaster that aimed to increase the share of atomic energy to more than half of electricity supply.
But Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s unpopular government, which could face an election this year, also looks set to call in the meantime for the restart of reactors idled after the 2011 disaster if they are deemed safe by a new atomic regulator.
Japan’s growing anti-nuclear movement, which wants an immediate end to atomic power, is certain to oppose any such proposal to secure electricity supplies.
A shift from nuclear means Japan should seal its position as the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and third-largest purchaser of oil to feed its power stations.
The nation’s new energy policy goal should be to no longer depend on nuclear power, national policy minister Motohisa Furukawa said Tuesday.
Furukawa told reporters this means Japan would have to embark on a broad quest to become totally nuclear-free. His comments could spark a backlash because he chairs the government panel that this month must unveil the nation’s future energy mix.
His remarks came as he announced the government will convene a meeting of experts Wednesday to study public opinions it collected during the course of hearings on the future use of atomic power. Furukawa said the government will reflect the results when drawing up a plan that will wean Japan off nuclear power.
The feed-in tariff system for renewable energies entered into force Sunday to help promote their use and cut Japan’s dependency on nuclear power.
The system requires utilities to purchase all electricity generated through solar, wind, water and geothermal power, among other eco-friendly sources, at fixed rates for up to 20 years. The costs will be passed onto consumers.
The government’s generous tariff rates have created considerable interest in the sector, with companies rushing to build massive solar and other power plants based on renewable energies.
The power company behind Japans nuclear crisis got support from shareholders Wednesday for a decision to take 1 trillion yen $12.6 billion in public funds that effectively nationalizes the utility.
Meanwhile, activist shareholders including the Tokyo city government demanded more restructuring and safety improvements from Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
Outgoing TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata told more than 4,000 shareholders who gathered at a national gymnasium in downtown Tokyo that the utility desperately needs taxpayer money to avoid insolvency. It faces huge compensation and cleanup bills.
“We are cutting to the bone to restructure,” he said, as shareholders yelled at him, criticizing him as clinging to the top post for more than a year after the crisis. Katsumata will be replaced by Kazuhiko Shimokobe, a lawyer who headed the companys restructuring plans.
Japan approved on Monday incentives for renewable energy that could unleash billions of dollars in clean-energy investment and help the world’s third-biggest economy shift away from a reliance on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster.
Industry Minister Yukio Edano approved the introduction of feed-in tariffs (FIT), which means higher rates will be paid for renewable energy. The move could expand revenue from renewable generation and related equipment to more than $30 billion by 2016, brokerage CLSA estimates.
The subsidies from July 1 are one of the few certainties in Japan’s energy landscape, where the government has gone back to the drawing board to write a power policy after the Fukushima radiation crisis, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Two years ago, Japan’s second-largest city launched a small-scale environmental experiment, encouraging residents to install solar panels on their roofs and buy pricey equipment to track how much energy they use.Yokohama officials’ goal was simple: to save power and cut the city’s carbon emissions.
But since the nuclear disaster that transformed the way Japan thinks about both energy and the companies that supply it, Yokohama’s “smart city project” has taken on potentially larger significance. What began as a modest environmental plan now stands as a controversial blueprint for a system in which the country’s monopolistic utilities would lose their absolute control of the grid.
In Yokohama, the households with both solar panels and meters act as micro-size power companies, generating electricity, using what they want and in some cases selling the surplus back to the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Tepco. That model contrasts sharply with the one that has served Japan for decades, as 10 privately owned utility companies established regional fiefdoms, largely reliant on coastal nuclear plants and allowing little room for renewable-energy projects that would cut into profits.
Plans to rebuild many areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake as environmentally friendly "smart cities" are being explored by corporations and municipal governments.
By promoting large-scale projects that include power-generation facilities utilising renewable energy and smart grids, the plans are also meant to create jobs. Some companies and local governments have already started working together on these projects.
Major electronics manufacturer Toshiba Corp has proposed an integrated system, with facilities ranging from power generation and water-treatment systems to "smart metre" next-generation power meters, to some local governments.
An official of the company’s smart community division said, "In the future, (we want) to export technologies created domestically."
Japans richest entrepreneur outlined a plan on Monday to rebuild the countrys energy infrastructure in the wake of its nuclear disaster, shifting the majority of supply to natural, renewable resources by 2030.
Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of SoftBank, was speaking at the launch of his Japan Renewable Energy Foundation. He said Japan could shift to renewable energy sources for 60% of its electricity requirements over the next two decades, calling for a 2 trillion yen £16.34 billion "super grid" across the country, and underwater off the coast, that would zip electricity around cheaply and efficiently to meet demand.
"Japan is a country that is riddled by earthquakes," Son said at a conference hall in central Tokyo. "We must minimise our use of nuclear power over the next 20 years."
Kansai Electric Power Co. has finished building Japan’s largest solar power plant, a 10,000-kilowatt facility in Osaka Prefecture capable of generating enough electricity to run about 3,000 households.
It has also started testing a system with a cluster of nickel hydrate batteries that can store and supply power in a stable manner, the company said Wednesday.
The cluster, set up in a transformer station near the solar facility in the waterfront area of Sakai, is capable of storing some 100 kwh.