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Japan changes its nuclear policy and suggests constructing new plants

Because of the Fukushima incident in 2011, Japan has become less reliant on nuclear power and more reliant on fossil fuels imported from other countries. However, the Japanese government reversed its nuclear policy on Thursday, as reported by the national broadcaster, in an effort to reach zero carbon emissions by the year 2050.

Both of these goals will be pursued by the new strategy. For starters, it hopes to make Japan’s present nuclear fleet last longer than the 60 years it has been allowed to run so far. The second goal is to construct cutting-edge power plants. Small modular reactors, sometimes known as “generation4” facilities, are a kind of nuclear power plant that has been developed to be both less expensive to construct and inherently safe.

To its power system, China hooked up a “pebble bed” reactor last year, making it the first nation to do so. Graphite balls, used in these reactors, are designed to sustain higher temperatures than nuclear fission can produce, therefore eliminating the possibility of a meltdown. X-Energy, an American firm, is working on similar facilities. Meanwhile, one of Bill Gates’s next-generation power plants, TerraPower, is being constructed in Wyoming.

The policy has been authorised by a panel, but it must still be presented to the Diet of Japan for final approval. Fumio Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party has a majority in both chambers of the Diet.

The reversal is indicative of how public opinion about nuclear power has evolved over time. Nuclear power production has been criticised for its effects on local surroundings, while being one of the safest methods of generating electricity (brown coal kills around 350 times as many people per terrawatt generated as nuclear, mostly from pollution). The allure of nuclear power has grown as the danger of climate change has increased and governments have strived to fulfil net-zero goals. While the cost of constructing new nuclear power facilities is high, particularly in the United States owing to a more complex legislative framework, the energy produced by nuclear reactors produces almost no carbon emissions.

Over 40 gigawatts of electricity were being generated by Japan’s nuclear facilities in the decade before the Fukushima disaster, as reported by the World Nuclear Association. In2021, after ten years of cuts to the nuclear programme, that number had dropped to 18 gigawatts. Gas and coal stepped in to fill the hole left by the nuclear energy industry.

At its height around the turn of the century, nuclear power provided 30% of Japan’s electricity. In2021, it will have dropped to below 7%. Japan’s goal is to have nuclear power contribute for 20% to 22% of its energy mix by 2030, and this strategy was revealed on Thursday as part of that plan.