The Use of Coal is Increasing Since Fukushima

Spotlight Activity: The Use of Coal is Increasing Since Fukushima

The Japanese government had promoted nuclear energy, but after the Fukushima disaster, the government shut down most of the nuclear power plants and encouraged thermal generation, primarily by using coal. One explanation for this may be that thermal power was the most economical means for power generation at that time.

According to Carbon, Japan imported a record amount of coal last year, primarily from Australia. Japan’s banks are also well known for financing coal developments abroad, especially in South East Asia. over 20 companies including Mitsubishi Corporation, Sumitomo Corporation and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation own mining rights or assets in Australian mines.

Coal power has risen in Japan since the Fukushima accident, supported in recent years by several policies to make approval of coal plants easier and cheaper. According to Carbon, Japan has around 45 GW of operating coal plants – the sixth largest fleet in the world – according to the Global Coal Plant Tracker. It also shows Japan has 18GW of new coal-fired plants in the planning or construction phases, the biggest coal power construction plans of any developed nation.

Today, Japan is planning to build more coal-fired power stations than any other developed nation and is one of the world’s largest providers of government-backed finance for coal power overseas.

Note that nearly a quarter of the new plants planned by the end of 2017 have been cancelled or shelved this year. In order to align with the Paris Agreement goals, Japan now needs to shift focus to how to  phasing out all coal plants by 2030, according to scientific NGO Climate Analytics. Japan’s coal plants are thought to be the most efficient in the world. However, efficiency standards will not come close to bringing emissions down to what is needed under the Paris Agreement, Climate Analytics says.

The graph below reflects trends in Japan’s use of imported coal since 2011:

As of the end of 2016, coal accounts for 349.8 billion kWh or 32.7% of the total electricity production.

Coal is still relied upon in Japan because the Japanese government believes that coal plays a key role in ensuring its energy security. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry upholds Energy Security, Economic Efficiency, Environment and Safety (3E+S) as basic principles for Japan’s energy policy. According to their explanation, coal use is widespread so that Japan can diversify its trade partners unlike oil on which producing countries are limited and concentrated.

Another reason for the continued use of coal claimed by the government is that coal enables Japan to have a stable supply of electricity. Coal is said to be less geopolitically risky but more economical in terms of production and shipping than oil or natural gas, so they conclude coal as an important energy source for baseload.

Some Japanese companies have taken initiative to stop investing in coal. For example, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank and Nippon Life announced restrictions on its investment in coal power plants projects. In addition, there are other non-coal initiatives created by NGOs such as campaigns against new construction of coal power plants by CAN Japan and divestment movement by

Still, even by 2030, the government has no plan to phase out but rather to maintain coal to supply about 26% of the total production.

Status: Falling Behind

Although Japan has been criticized by international society for not showing any moves to phase out from coal, instead of reflecting on such critics, the Japanese government develops unique logic to maintain the status quo. Furthermore, the government encourages the export of coal power plants. This goes against today’s global trend in energy and, more broadly, climate policy.

Take Action

Dear Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko,

We are pleased that some companies have taken the initiative to reduce dependency on coal. However, in order to accelerate phasing out from coal, we recommend that the Japanese government revise its energy mix and develop a plan to transition out of coal.

Send Action Alert Message to:

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Web: Leave message (

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Secretariat of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy Director General Affairs Division Strategic Planning Division Tanaka

Person in charge: Akamatsu, Tomizawa, Ozawa

Phone: 03-3501-1511 (extension 4471)

03-3501-2096 (direct)

03-3580-8426 (FAX)

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