Japan refers to a return to nuclear power to stabilize energy supplies

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a speech at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan July 14, 2022. Xinhua/Zhang Xiaoyu/Paul via Reuters/File Photo

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday that Japan will restart more stalled nuclear plants and look to develop next-generation reactors, paving the way for a major policy shift on nuclear power a decade after the Fukushima disaster.

Kishida’s comments – who has also said that the government will consider extending the life of existing reactors – highlight how the Ukrainian crisis and high energy costs have prompted both public opinion and a rethink of policy toward nuclear power.

Japan has kept most of its nuclear plants idle in the decade since a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011 triggered a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. Earthquake-prone Japan has said it will not build new reactors, so changing that policy would be a stark shift.

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Kishida told reporters he had instructed officials to take concrete actions by the end of the year, including “gaining public understanding” of sustainable energy and nuclear power.

Government officials met on Wednesday to draw up a plan for a so-called “green transition” aimed at retooling the world’s third-largest economy to meet environmental goals. Nuclear power, fiercely opposed by the public after the Fukushima crisis, is now seen by some in the government as an ingredient for such a green transition.

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Public opinion has shifted, too, with fuel prices soaring and an early, hot summer sparking calls for energy savings.

“It’s the first step toward normalizing Japan’s energy policy,” said Jun Arima, a project professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Public Policy.

He said Japan needs nuclear power because its grid is not connected to neighboring countries, and it is also unable to increase domestic fossil fuel production.

The government said last month that it hoped to restart more nuclear reactors in time to avoid any electricity crisis during the winter.

As of late July, Japan had seven reactors in operation, and three more are offline due to maintenance. Many others are still undergoing the re-licensing process under stricter safety standards imposed after Fukushima.

Kishida also said the government would consider extending the life of existing reactors. Local media previously reported that this can be done by not including the time the reactors have been offline – years in some cases – when calculating their operating time.

Under current regulations, Japan shuts down factories after a predetermined period, which in many cases is 60 years.

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(Reporting by Mayoko Sakuda and Yoshifumi Takemoto) Additional reporting by Mariko Katsumura, David Dolan and Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Tom Hogg, Shree Navaratnam and Nick McPhee

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