New Prime Minister and Energy Policy Overhaul in Japan - Again

The spectacular political drama over post-Fukushima energy policy overhaul in Japan has shown a new development in the past few weeks. On the day after Christmas, Shinzo Abe sworn in as the 7th Prime Minister in 7 years (his second), after the landslide victory by his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) - actually a conservative party contrary to its name.

Prime Minister Abe (Speaking at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant)
(Source: New York Times)

Since then, his administration quickly moved to repeal the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment, whose primary goal is to phase out all nuclear power plants by sometime in the 2030s. He now calls for new construction of nuclear reactors if they are “completely different from those at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.” It is anticipated to face intense oppositions from some anti-nuclear groups and activists, but given the weakening the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) who drafted the Innovative Strategy of Energy and the Environment, the rebooting and new construction could take place soon after the Nuclear Safety Commission finalizes the new rule in the coming July.

In the mean time, he decided to drop the commitment to reduce Japan’s GHG emissions by 25% relative to the 2030s, and directed the Minister of the Environment to set a less stringent reduction goal by November. His decision is based on the forecast used for the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment, showing the level of GHG emissions in 2020 will be only 7% lower than the 1990 levels. However, as I wrote on previous posts, when rebooting existing reactors and adding planned reactors as he suggests, the reduction level is likely to be somewhere around 25% in 2020 under low growth scenario. So, in short, the administration’s energy policy overhaul began with contradiction, and it is unclear where the reform is headed.

Expert Panel (Comprehensive Natural Resource and Energy Forum) 

The expert panel is expected to discuss fuel mix for electricity generation, and to a lesser extent, review the energy demand forecast. It is unclear what the level of GHG emissions will be under the new forecast, but it could affect the next round of the international negotiation over the reduction target beyond 2020. So, I plan to continue to monitor the development and critically review the new forecast.

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