This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Japan Country Manager Yun-Tzu Lin
Currently, Japan relies on nuclear power as an energy source to a minimal extent. In 2020, the share of electricity generated by nuclear power in Japan amounted to around 5.1%. There are five plants with a total of nine reactors currently in operation; however, this share is set to increase. In April 2021, Prime Minister Suga announced Japan’s new goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 46% by 2030 compared with 2013 levels. Thus, Japan plans to increase nuclear energy generation to at least 20% by 2030, with 16 reactors in the process of restart approval right now (Nikkei staff writers, 2021).
In September 2012, the Ministry of the Environment established its Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to ensure nuclear safety in the wake of the devastating 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. In July 2013, the NRA put into effect the new regulatory requirements for restarting nuclear power plants based on guidelines of the IAEA, Finland, France, and the USA (NRA Japan, 2021). These requirements mandate a safety assessment by the NRA and the briefing of affected local governments by the operators. NRA safety assessments include procedures to inspect the construction plan, operational management system, and engineering work program, taking an average of 137 to 200 days (“Nuclear Power…” 2021).
To dispose of nuclear waste, the Japanese government announced that in 2023, it would begin dumping one million tons of treated but radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) evaluated Japan’s plan as one “routinely used by operating nuclear power plants worldwide,” and “soundly based on safety and environmental impact assessments.” This decision was met with protests and criticism by the local fishing community, environmental groups, and Japan’s regional neighbors (Kuhn, 2021).
Japan’s first commercial nuclear power reactor began operational in 1966 and nuclear power became a national strategic priority in 1973. At its peak, there were 54 nuclear reactors in operation in Japan operating a total generating capacity of 48,847 MW and supplying approximately 30% of the country’s electric power (“Japan’s nuclear…” 2020). In March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake unleashed a major tsunami that caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (“Fukushima Daiichi…” 2021). Afterwards, nuclear reactors were gradually shut down until none were in operation in May 2012. Since then, polls by news media sources demonstrate that public opinion towards nuclear power generation in Japan has been characterized by anxiety and distrust (“Public Opinion” 2016). While more support has emerged recently in response to the new climate target, the issue of safety remains of paramount importance in Japan’s discussion over the role of nuclear energy in the coming years.
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Nikkei Staff Writers. Japan allows 1st restarts of nuclear reactors older than 40 years. (2021).
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Public opinion changes after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident to nuclear power generation as seen in continuous polls over the past 30 years. (2016). Journal Of Nuclear Science And Technology.