Japan has a new blueprint for its energy future, one that opens the door for a controversial return of nuclear power four years after the Fukushima accident took the country’s reactors offline. But even more noteworthy is that Japan now appears set to embrace a dominant role for dirty coal in the country’s energy mix for decades to come.
The plan, presented Tuesday, April 7, to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and expected to be finalized this spring, highlights the difficult choices that developing and even developed countries must make — just months before a landmark climate conference in Paris — between cheap but dirty energy and more expensive, if cleaner alternatives. Japan’s struggles are complicated further by the political fallout of Fukushima, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and has left a residue of radioactive soil and water.
Abe’s 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. [….]
Hydroelectric and geothermal power — the clean, baseload sources of energy– will be hard-pressed to grow beyond 10 percent of the total. This means that coal will be the only baseload option left to power about 30 percent or more of the Japanese electricity sector, a significant uptick compared with the pre-Fukushima period and a stark contrast to other advanced economies, like the United States, that are trying to nudge polluting coal out of the energy mix.
Coal could play an even bigger role than the latest energy plan suggests.