Renewables Update

Is ‘20-22% Nuclear’ A Feasible Commitment? in Japanese

10 September 2015 Hiroshi Takahashi, Professor at Tsuru University
Senior Research Fellow at Japan Renewable Energy Foundation

The debate over the proposed “Energy Mix (Electricity Mix)” within the Japanese government has come to an end. On July 16, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) finally decided the 2030 target of the nation’s nuclear dependence as 20-22% of the total power generation. This column will discuss how feasible such a target is, and in what kind of situation it would put Japan’s economy.

Nuclear Power’s Installed Capacity and Electricity Mix by 2030

The Japanese Government predicts that by the year 2030, the total amount of power generated will reach 1,065 TWh, of which 213 – 234.3 TWh must stem from nuclear power generation. With a capacity factor of 70%, this would require an installed capacity of between 34.74 -38.21 GW.

As of May 2015, Japan has an installed capacity of 42.2 GW from 43 nuclear reactors. Under Article 43 of the Reactor Regulation Act, the unit lifetime by principle is 40 years, meaning that by the end of FY2030, the installed capacity will be reduced to 19.18 GW from 18 reactors. This number reaches just over half the required amount of the above-mentioned capacity of 34.74-38.21GW. When the capacity is translated into the generated amount, the share of nuclear in the electricity mix comes out to be only about 11%.

Table: Prediction of installed capacity and electricity mix for nuclear

Conditions FY2030 (end) FY2050 (end)
Lifetime: 40 yrs
Capacity Factor: 70%
installed capacity 19.18 GW 0
electricity mix 11% 0%
Lifetime: 40 yrs
Capacity Factor: 80%
installed capacity 19.18 GW 0万kW
electricity mix 12.6% 0%
Lifetime: 40 yrs +Shimane+Oma
Capacity Factor: 80%
installed capacity 2193 GW 2.75 GW
electricity mix 14.4% 1.6%
(43 reactors + Shimane+Oma) x Lifetime 60 yrs
Capacity Factor: 80%
installed capacity 33.45 GW 12.35 GW
electricity mix 22% 8.1
Source: Made by Hiroshi Takahashi based on websites of various nuclear power plant owners

What can be done to increase this number? If the capacity factor were to be increased to 80%, our dependence on nuclear power would be at 12.6%. If the nuclear reactors currently undergoing construction (Shimane 3rd and Oma) become active, by the end of FY2030 there would be an installed capacity of 21.93 GW from 20 units that would produce 12.6% of the entire power generation. Yet even with these two additional factors, the dependence on nuclear power would reach only 14.4%; still not enough.

Even the most optimistic pro-nuclear advocates realize that the addition of these two factors to reach the nuclear dependence goal will not be an easy task. Looking at FY2014, the capacity factor of all the nuclear power plants was at 0%, and the City of Hakodate is undertaking an injunction lawsuit against construction of the nuclear power plant at Oma . The Japanese Government and electric utilities are highly anticipating potential exceptional measures to extend the nuclear plant lifetime from 40 to 60 years. If this comes into play, how many units would need to take advantage of this new extension?

Lifetime Extension of Nuclear Reactors

Under a capacity factor of 70%, with 34.74-38.21 GW required by 2030, 17 GW of nuclear capacity would be required to extend lifetimes, after subtracting the 19.18 GW which will not fall within the 40-year lifetime. This amount of 17 GW is more than 70% of the 23 GW from the 25 units which should be decommissioned by 2030 under the 40-year rule. If the capacity factor is set at 80% and the lifetime of half of the units making up the 23 GW is extended, the electricity mix would reach 22%. This is most likely how the government decided on these values.

However, the lifetime extension is not as easily realized as the government perceives. Not only does it have to pass strict review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but investment in additional safety measures for this purpose is also necessary. Much opposition from the local community and public to lifetime extension would also be expected. Furthermore, these figures include the 4.4 GW of installed capacity of the 4 units at the Fukushima Dai-Ni Nuclear Station, the reactivation of which is seen as particularly despairing.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has criticized the Democratic Party’s “Innovative Strategy of Energy and the Environment" presented in September 2012, and repeatedly stressed the necessity to “rebuild energy policy from the beginning in a responsible manner.” And yet, one of the main focuses under the LDP’s new policy was “to reduce the nation’s dependence on nuclear power as much as possible.” The nation’s nuclear dependence in July of 2015 was at 0%; is it really a “responsible” action to increase this dependence to 22%, with the assumption of a 60 year lifetime which was not even the precedent before the 2011 nuclear disaster?

Electricity Mix in 2050

Although the year 2030 and targets leading towards it are most prominently focused upon within the current energy mix debate, it is also important to keep in mind the situation in later decades such as 2040 and 2050. Basic Energy Plans are supposed to focus on measures to be taken on a long-term basis, according to Article 12 of the Basic Act on Energy Policy. It is almost certain that pro-nuclear advocates will not be for a dramatic decrease in nuclear dependence after 2030.

Under the 40 year lifetime rule, the installed capacity of nuclear power would be 5.58 GW by the end of FY2040 and 0 GW by the end of FY2050. Even if the lifetime of all nuclear plants were to be extended, assuming the same total generation, the share of nuclear within the electricity mix by the end of FY2050 would still be at a mere 11%.

If this is the case, it is not hard to imagine that the Japanese government assumes that new expansions and replacements will take place to reach their goal of 20-22% nuclear dependence. Although the government has never admitted this assumption, this point needs to be clarified, since new construction or replacements would fundamentally affect both the nuclear power industry and energy policy in general. In this respect, it could be said that the stance of the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC), which has been continuously calling for this since after the nuclear power plant disaster, is more honest and consistent than that of the government.

This forms the government’s step-by-step attempt to mitigate people’s sentiment against nuclear power over several years. They first clearly denied the Innovative Strategy of Energy and the Environment, which includes nuclear phase-out, in the 2014 Basic Energy Plan. Secondly, within the current energy mix debate they tried to establish the short-term direction of nuclear revival with concrete numbers. They presumably expect the reactivation of some nuclear power plants within this year as the third step, and intend to include new expansions and replacements in the next revisions of the Basic Energy Plan which will take place by 2017. Let us be the judges of whether or not this policy and the method in which the Government is pushing it forward is “responsible”, let alone feasible in the long run.