The skyrocketing costs of imported oil and growing fears of global warming are driving Japan to step up construction of new nuclear power plants and related facilities. The policy direction for the new urgency comes right from the top.
Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said in late April that, "nuclear power, which does not produce carbon dioxide, is a trump card for global warming measures."
It is the first time the country's prime minister has made such a direct endorsement of nuclear energy. Fukuda made his remarks at the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum on April 17th.
He said, "I think the recent moves toward a nuclear revival or "renaissance" show that Japan's consistent nuclear energy development was anything but a mistake."
The policy level emphasis is a shift for the Japanese government. At the World Economic Forum last winter Fukuda spoke about renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, but did not mention nuclear energy.
Japan has a plan - Cool Earth 50
According to a report by World Nuclear News, a Japanese plan published in March 2008 to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 has concluded that advanced nuclear power could contribute 12% to that goal.
A committee established by the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry developed the plan, called Cool Earth 50, which relies on the development of innovative nuclear technologies to reduce global emissions by 40 billion ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) each year by 2050.
A key technology is the fast breeder reactor being developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Mitsubishi plans to sell its fast reactors in the U.S. A recent development is that the firm has a completed design for its ABWR which it submitted to the NRC for licensing review last December.
Cool Earth 50 Roadmap
Cool Earth 50 includes a roadmap giving priority to 21 technologies with potential to contribute to emissions cuts in sectors including power generation and transmission, industry, household and transportation. In the power generation and transmission sector, advanced nuclear power was selected alongside innovative solar, high-efficiency natural gas, high-efficiency coal, carbon capture and storage and superconducting power transmission.
The committee's analysis showed that advanced nuclear power could cut global emissions by 12%, some 9.6 billion tons of CO2-eq each year. This target would require 1,500 new nuclear power reactors (assuming a standard size of 1,000 MWe) in addition to the 372 GWe currently operating.
The committee said nuclear power would provide the electricity required for stable economic growth while cutting emissions at the same time. It added that new reactors developed from today's light-water models should be in operation by 2050, with further refined safety, economy and reliability.
In announcing Cool Earth 50, the government said, "We will also enhance the reliability and safety of nuclear energy, and develop advanced nuclear power generation technologies, such as high-temperature gas-cooled reactors and small reactors, so that safe and peaceful use of nuclear power will be expanded."
World Nuclear News also noted that it is a longstanding goal of Japanese planners to use nuclear energy as the backbone of electricity supply and begin using fast reactors from around 2040. The committee said that Japan should continue to cooperate internationally in their development so that international standards could be developed for advanced nuclear reactors.