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20.11.2013 г.

The Nuclear Factor in Japan's Climate Policy

Oleg Kazakov

The March 11, 2011, 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the consequent massive tsunami led to the natural and man-made accident at the Fukushima-1 plant, which stopped almost all reactors at Japanese nuclear power plants, and brought about the revision by the Japanese government of the country's nuclear safety standards. The sector of Japanese nuclear power generation, which provided about one-third of the country's electricity, caused not only the difficulties in the power supply, but also affected Japan's obligations under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, and above all, it affected the increased obligations that the then ruling Democratic Party (DPJ) adopted in 2009, obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 (compared to the baseline of 1990) that its leader and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama named the "Hatoyama Initiative." This was how the two problems - the restoration of atomic energy and Japan's climate policy - became closely linked.

The great disaster in Eastern Japan led to a sequential shutdown of reactors at Japanese nuclear power plants; some of these were closed for routine inspection, but even the reactors that passed the inspection did not resume operation. On May 5, 2012, the country's last operating reactor at the Tomaric nuclear power plant was stopped for repairs, thus leaving Japan without nuclear power for the first time since 1966. On July 1, 2012, work resumed at reactor number three, and on July 18 - at reactor number four at the Oi plant, the only two reactors in operation in Japan at this point. Needless to say it was a crushing blow to the Hatoyama Initiative. Whereas in 2010 the country's share of nuclear energy accounted for 30.8%, it plummeted down to 14% in 2011.

The natural and man-caused accident at the Fukushima-1, which was accompanied by the release of a cloud of radioactive steam and leaks of radioactive water into the soil and water, led to the first-ever major disaster related to the peaceful uses of atomic energy. This has brought in its wake a growing anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan, which was voiced at numerous rallies across the country and in public statements by famous Japanese figures. The large-scale social movement has practically blocked any quick decisions to launch nuclear reactors in the country.

In addressing the 18th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP18), held in Qatar from 26 November to 7 December 2012, the Japanese spokesman stated that, on the one hand, Japan was not going to join the Kyoto Protocol in case of its renewal, but that, on the other hand, it would try to maintain its role as a key player in the debate of this agenda as it had assisted developing countries in the amount of 17 billion 400 million dollars, which is well above the $15 billion it promised three years ago. As a result, due to a set of reasons and despite the obvious damage to its reputation, in 2012 Japan disengaged itself from the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol.

When the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) returned to power in Japan in December 2012, with Shinzo Abe as prime minister, it aimed at restarting the nuclear reactors on the basis of new standards of nuclear safety. The goal was to eliminate the deficit of electricity and use energy sources with zero emissions so as to set on this basis new realistic goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A breakthrough in efforts to restore the nuclear industry occurred after Japan adopted new security rules for nuclear power plants on July 8, 2013. On that day four NPP operators applied for permission to renew operation of 10 reactors at five nuclear power plants, and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan began their review. Yet, the government is aware of the pressure on the part of most of the public and many parties who oppose the "peaceful atom" and come out for a consistent elimination of nuclear energy in Japan.

Nevertheless, Japan is planning to announce new targets for greenhouse gas emissions at the November 2013 Conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and is continuing its efforts to overcome the existing problems.
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