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Sendai Nuclear Happy Times

We’ve reported a few times in the past about Japan’s efforts to restart its nuclear energy industry. This seemed inevitable because the country was not officially closing its plants, because it was rebuilding its regulatory regime to mirror that of the United States (that is, not linked to efforts to promote nuclear technology and focused exclusively on public safety) and, not least, because resource-light Japan has very few options in the energy sphere if it wants baseload carbon dioxide emission-free electricity. If it had completely abandoned nuclear energy, that would be unfortunate but comprehensible. But it made no moves to do so.

So that’s where we’ve been for the last five years. Here’s where we are now:
Kyushu Electric Power began to restart its Sendai No. 1 reactor on Tuesday, the company said, the first attempt to reboot Japan's nuclear industry in nearly two years after the sector was shut down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The utility, which supplies electricity to the island of the same name in southwestern Japan, began the restart of the reactor at 10:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) as scheduled, a spokesman said.
Much of the news about this is found in European and, obviously, Japanese sources. It’s been very lightly covered in the U.S. But it would be a good thing to promote it here. Because some of the Japanese rationale for returning to nuclear energy is true here, too.
Since shutting down all nuclear plants, Japan has been relying on imported fossil fuels for its energy, at huge expense. The government has said nuclear power must resume to cut both import bills and growing CO2 emissions.
That’s the problem with being on an island with few energy-related resources. Importing relatively little uranium versus copious amounts of coal and liquefied natural gas takes a toll.
But, of course, it’s the emissions produced by those sources that cause deeper concern. From Reuters in April:
Japan's greenhouse-gas emissions rose to the second-highest on record in the year ended March 2014, revised government figures showed on Tuesday, reflecting a rise in coal-fired power after the indefinite closure of nuclear power plants.
Emissions rose 1.2 percent to 1.408 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent from a year earlier, according to the revised data published by the Ministry of Environment. That was up 0.8 percent from 2005 and up 10.8 percent from 1990.
Same source, July:
Japan said on Friday it would slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels and would submit the plan to the United Nations later in the day as its contribution to a global summit on climate change in Paris in November.
The target is based on the government's power generation plan for 2030 that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) finalized on Thursday. The plan calls for relying slightly less on nuclear power than on renewable energy following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Which seems to me a realistic way to balance nuclear and renewable energy in a highly industrial society while keeping a watchful eye on CO2 emissions. Reuters also provides a sense of what Japan will not need by restarting Sendai:
The scheduled restart of Japan's first reactor in nearly two years next month would save around 850,000 tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the country's industry ministry.
And this is one reactor! Sendai 2 is prepping to return online in October, so the profile for imports will very rapidly improve.

And the future?
[Japan Prime Minister Shinzo ]Abe’s [energy] blueprint envisions stable, round-the-clock power sources such as nuclear, coal, and hydroelectric growing from about 40 percent of the electricity mix today to 60 percent in 2030. The rest of Japan’s electricity would come from natural gas and renewable energy like wind and solar power, complemented by increasingly aggressive efforts to boost energy efficiency.

While there are no hard-and-fast targets yet for nuclear power in the new plan, officials say it would represent about 20 percent of the total — slightly more than the 15 percent that Abe had sought, but much less than the 30 percent of Japan’s electricity in the years before Fukushima. With all its reactors offline, Japan currently doesn’t get any electricity from nuclear power.
Well, a third more than Abe suggested but a third less than it had before. That’s okay – Japan’s trying to find the right balance to power its society and meet its carbon goals. However it does that is fine by me – and that it includes nuclear energy basically means that Japan recognizes both its economic and emission avoidance qualities. Win-win.

Comments

Deepak Midha said…
Re: "...If it had completely abandoned nuclear energy, that would be unfortunate but comprehensible."

If Fukushima killed several thousands and caused widespread massive damage it'd be comprehensible. If Fukushima killed several hundred and caused severe local damage it just might be comprehensible. If Fukushima killed no one and caused no physical damage beyond the plant site, it is incomprehensible.

Deepak Midha

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