Ally of Japan's PM Suga pushes to ditch nuclear power

Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masatoshi Akimoto said nuclear power brings enormous risks over time. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan can achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 without relying on nuclear power, a prominent backer of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, indicating divisions in the ruling party on energy policy.

Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masatoshi Akimoto said nuclear power brings enormous risks over time, becoming less appealing as the price of renewable energy falls. He said his view was a minority position in the ruling camp, where many are pushing for a restarting nuclear power plants that were halted after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, one of the world's worst nuclear power disasters.

"There is no cost advantage for large-scale energy sources centralised on nuclear power," Akimoto said in an interview about a week before the 10-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.

Akimoto, a member of a group of younger, non-aligned LDP lawmakers who backed Suga to become premier, also said he expects nuclear power "to fade out" as the costs of maintaining atomic energy plants stay high. He added Japan has a high potential to further develop offshore wind power and solar to help meet its climate goals.

In the aftermath of the nuclear disaster a decade ago, Japan closed all its 54 reactors, around a third of which were permanently scrapped. Nuclear now accounts for about 6 per cent of Japan's energy mix, down from roughly 30 per cent before the Fukushima accident.

Suga pledged last year to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 through boosting dependence on offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon-capture technologies. He has also said nuclear power remains an option to meet carbon goals.

Many in an advisory panel of government officials, company executives and professors believe that for the Suga administration to meet its global climate commitments, the country will need to restart almost every nuclear reactor it shuttered in the aftermath of the 2011 meltdown, and then build more.

Japan's biggest utility and the owner of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant said it needs atomic energy to meet its pledge to cut its carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030.

Akimoto said he has discussed energy policy with Suga and the premier has said he's not a supporter of atomic energy plants.

"Suga lit a fire for renewable energy," Akimoto said. "I'd like to add my support to make the fire grow larger."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.