M E T I announces policy to reduce 100 coal-fired electricity generation plants. But is this just an excuse to force nuclear restarts?

(translation of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center Statement released on 28 July 2020)

On 13 July 2020, at a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy Subcommittee on Basic Policy for Electricity and Gas, the Ministry of Energy, Trade and Industry (METI) presented their plan to phase out inefficient coal thermal electricity generation plants. The policy to phase out coal thermal generation was first announced in 2018 in the 5th Strategic Energy Plan, but there had been no clear directions laid out until now. As a result of this, the forecast percentage of total electricity generated by coal in 2029 was set at 37%, which was calculated by OCCTO (the Organization for Cross-regional Coordination of Transmission Operators) based on the supply plans of the electricity companies. However, the national government’s long-term target for coal-generated electricity was 26%, quite a major difference from the stated forecast.

Under METI’s new policy, of the 140 coal thermal plants (not including in-house generation) presently in operation, 114 of the most inefficient (supercritical pressure types of around 38-40% generation efficiency rates) will be decommissioned. This would bring the coal power generation composition percentage to around 26% by 2030, in line with the government target. However, there are major problems with this policy.

One of the problems is that nuclear power generation is maintained as a baseload power source. The target for nuclear power supply is 20-22% of total electricity generation in FY2030. For the government to achieve this target, it would be necessary to restart approximately 30 nuclear reactors. As mentioned above, OCCTO’s calculations show that, based on supply plans, in FY2029, 37% of electricity would be generated from coal. In order to bring this down to 26%, it is necessary to raise the generation capacity of other power sources. According to the same supply plans, nuclear power would make up only 3.5% of electricity generation. This will inevitably raise pressure to restart more reactors.

Another problem is that only inefficient coal-fired generation plants are considered a problem. The CO2 emissions for low-efficiency coal-fired plants are 0.867kg per kWh and 0.733-0.836kg for high-efficiency plants. But, for example, LNG thermal plants, even conventional types, emit 0.415kg of CO2 per kWh and newer types only 0.32-0.36kg which is less than half the amount emitted by high-efficiency coal thermal plants. The problem with coal plants is not their efficiency levels.

We urge a comprehensive energy policy review based on zero carbon and zero nuclear.


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