Japan’s new Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) prime minister Shinzo Abe has said for the first time that his government will endorse the construction of new nuclear power plants.
Mr Abe said in a statement that he would take “a level-headed look” at what caused the March 2011 nuclear crisis at Fukushima-Daiichi and would also look at other energy issues including the continued use of nuclear power.
He said: “Any new nuclear plant would be completely different from Fukushima- Daiichi, which was constructed more than 40 years ago. We will build new nuclear power plants and seek to win the people’s understanding.”
Mr Abe said he would look into the factors that led to “differing fates” for nuclear plants in Japan’s northern Tohoku region following the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011.
He noted that Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (Tepco) six-unit Fukushima- Daiichi plant was unable to secure a power source after the tsunami hit, but Tohoku Electric Power Company’s Onagawa nuclear plant in Miyagi Prefecture, to the north of Fukushima, withstood the situation well.
At Tepco’s Fukushima-Daini, also in Fukushima Prefecture, all four reactor units shut down safely when the earthquake hit and the plant had none of the core melt problems that affected Fukushima-Daiichi.
A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said the three-unit Onagawa nuclear power plant was “remarkably undamaged” despite “very high levels of ground shaking”. Onagawa, facing the Pacific Ocean on Japan’s northeast coast, was the nuclear station closest to the epicentre of the earthquake.
During the campaign for last month’s House of Representatives elections Mr Abe said he would determine “the optimum power-generation makeup” for Japan within 10 years. Before taking office last month, he said he would review the Democratic Party of Japan-led government’s policy of not allowing new nuclear plants to be built.
In his latest statement, Mr Abe said the Japanese people are worried about having sufficient electricity in the immediate future. He said parties that called for a shift away from nuclear energy were therefore “not trusted” in the recent election.
Mr Abe also said he intended to increase the role of renewable energy, saying state funds will be put towards the development of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources over the next three years.
In September 2012, as a consequence of the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, a government panel announced a draft energy policy that included plans to stop using nuclear power by the 2030s.
Under the proposals, Japan’s nuclear plants would have been shut down completely by the year 2040.
Before the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, Japan derived about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, and its previous long-term energy strategy had called for the ratio to be increased to 50 percent by 2030.
The reactor maker Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has said the government should begin restarting Japan’s reactors as soon as possible.
The company’s chief executive officer, Hideaki Omiya, said Japan’s energy policy plays a big part in the country’s ability to grow economically.
In May 2012, the Tomari-3 nuclear unit shut down leaving Japan without any of its 50 commercial nuclear reactors in operation. Since then two reactors have restarted, Ohi-3 and Ohi-4.
Following the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency ordered two-stage stress tests on all Japan’s nuclear reactors.