About that 2040 Japan Nuclear Phase-Out Deadline

Justin McCurry just published an article titled “Japan drops plans to phase out nuclear by 2040” in the Guardian.

I have a rather different take on the nuances involved here in two ways.

To begin with, as I pointed out the other day, there is no 2o40 deadline in the strategy document adopted last week in the first place. To quote my previous post:

It does not decide on phasing out until 2040, though it does say that they want to be able to get away from nuclear power until that year. What it does decide is that no reactor will be allowed to operate longer than forty years, and no new ones will be approved.

If these plans were not in the strategy document in the first place, they can’t be “dropped” a couple of days later.

Second, and more important, in no way has any new strategy been adopted. That would be highly unusual less than a week after deciding on that document.

What happened was that the cabinet endorsed the document in a somewhat lukewarm way. The exact wording is important here, so I’ll give it in Japanese first and then a translation:

“戦略を踏まえ、不断の検証と見直しを行う” (Source: printed edition of Asahi Shinbun this morning, online here). Translation: “We will go ahead with uninterrupted inspection and reevaluation, based on the strategy document.”

That is of course not “dropping” any plans after only a couple of days.

The procedure for developing the Basic Energy Plan is laid down in the Basic Act on Energy Policy, Article 12 Paragraph 3 of which reads:

(3) By hearing the opinions of the heads of the relevant administrative organs and hearing the opinions of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry shall formulate a draft of the Basic Energy Plan and seek a cabinet decision thereon.

The above sentence was that cabinet decision, and I for one don’t read it as anything else than an endorsement.

Half way through writing this, I saw this tweet from Hiro Matsubara, which points to the text actually adopted (different from what Asahi reported this morning before the fact). Again, first in Japanese and then a translation:

今後のエネルギー・環境政策については、「革新的エネルギー・環境戦略」(平成24年9月14日エネルギー・環境会議決定)を踏まえて、関係自治体や国際社会等と責任ある議論を行い、国民の理解を得つつ、柔軟性を持って不断の検証と見直しを行いながら遂行する。

Regarding the energy and environmental policy, we will proceed to go ahead with uninterrupted inspection and reevaluation in a flexible way, based on the document “Revolutionary Energy and Environment Strategy, adopted on 14 September 2012 by the Committee on Energy and Environment”, discussing in a responsible way with local communities affected and the international society, while achieving the understanding of the public.

Again, while opponents of nuclear might criticize this as a lukewarm endorsement of the strategy paper, I think it would be going to far to say everything decided last week has been “dropped”.

Update: McCurry kindly replies over Twitter:

Kf_Lenz V nicely done. But date was expunged, plus 2 NPPs being built OK to continue. The 2030s “ambition” is no more; Okada said as much.

Update 2: From a Japan Times article the next day after I wrote the above post:

The government, however, claimed Wednesday that it was still sticking to the new policy, with trade minister Yukio Edano telling a news conference that its full content was “authorized” by the Cabinet because the decision says the government will take actions “based on” the strategy.

That’s how I read the Cabinet decision as well. And of course Edano should say that. Understanding it as a rejection of the strategy document would be a major loss of face for him, since the strategy document is his proposal under the Basic Energy Law. And it would of course mean that the Japanese government is talking with a forked tongue, and nobody can rely on anything they say in the future.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

5 thoughts on “About that 2040 Japan Nuclear Phase-Out Deadline

  1. Hello Karl,

    I’ve been looking all over for a resource that covers the installation market in Japan. I’ve even communicated with the JPEA but they don’t publish what I’m after. I’m looking for a resource that covers the average installed costs in Japan as well as a monthly and/or quarterly installation report. I think you’d get a lot of hits if you started doing some posts dedicated to this statistical information.

    Best
    Lee

    Like

    1. I may not be the best person to ask for this, but I agree. It would certainly be useful if someone put together an overview on that topic. I may have a swing at it later. Thanks for the hint.

      Like

  2. This is still a terribly confusing situation. I am looking at the original document from the Kantei website (the 22-page “revolutionary strategy” from September 14), and on page four we have the three big principles (40 year operating limits, only safe reactors, no new builds). The immediately following sentence says “apply all policy resources in order to make zero operation of nuclear reactors possible by the 2030s”.

    I am confused in three ways:

    1. Where did the “2040” number come from? Simply rounding up to allow for the possibility of having a couple reactors running still in 2039? How is that “zero nuclear” in the 2030s?

    2. Regarding the Basic Act on Energy Policy, METI needs to formulate a draft which is to be adopted by Cabinet. We now have a Cabinet document. But this is still NOT a Basic Energy Plan, is it? It’s a draft thereof, so METI still needs to produce the real deal, yes?

    3. What does “authorized” mean, anyway? And how does the 2030 ambition not exist anymore? It is right there, in the paper, page 4! Is there perhaps an even newer version out there, newer than Sep 14?

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    1. Thank you, these are excellent questions.

      1. As I said repeatedly on the blog, I don’t think the “2040” number is actually in the strategy paper. All it says is that the political goal to get to a “society not dependent on nuclear” should be achieved at the latest in the 2030s.

      You can have a “society not dependent on nuclear” and still have 50 nuclear plants ready. Arguably, that has happened this summer, with all plants idle and demand met in other ways.

      So this was never a decision to “phase out by 2040” in the first place.

      2. No, the Cabinet decision is the end of the process. Of course, this is a political strategy document and it needs to be filled with life by actual legislation. For example, this strategy decides that the monopolies shall be completely abolished and production unbundled from grid operation. The necessary legislation for that will be proposed later.

      3. I agree that there is a lot of confusion out there. The 2030 ambition is in the paper, and there is no new paper, which would not make much sense a couple of days after adopting the strategy on September 14. “Authorized” was Minister Edano’s way of saying that the Cabinet has approved that document all right. PM Noda said the same, adding “machigainaku” (definitely), see my other blog post on PM Noda confirming Cabinet approvement.

      Unfortunately, some opponents of nuclear feel that they gain something from attacking the government for adopting the paper in a confusing matter, and pro-nuclear commentators jump at the chance to pretend that nuclear actually is not dead in Japan. That may explain some of the confusion. But the strategy has been adopted in Cabinet all right, and there is not much room for doubting that.

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