Japan energy panel sees role for nuclear in 2050 emissions targets

TOKYO (Reuters) - An influential Japanese energy panel on Tuesday left the door open to building nuclear plants to help meet long-term emissions targets, urging rapid technology improvements to allow industry to develop safer and more economic reactors.

The advisory panel, whose recommendations will feed into a review of the country’s 2030 basic energy plan and its measures to cut carbon emissions by 2050, said Japan should reduce its dependence on nuclear power, shift from coal to gas and boost renewable energy.

However, it listed nuclear power as an option for decarbonization in 2050, implying the possibility of new reactors, which is not part of the current policy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

“The report does not specifically talk about possible building of new reactors or replacing existing reactors, but it does not deny such a possibility either,” Shogo Tanaka, director of the ministry’s energy strategy office told reporters.

Nuclear faces strong public opposition in the wake of the deadly 2011 Fukushima disaster, with just five of the country’s 39 commercially viable reactors currently operating.

The closures have boosted Japan’s reliance on coal and natural gas and it is currently the world’s fifth-biggest carbon emitter.

The country has pledged to trim its emissions from 2013 levels by 26 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050. It is currently aiming for a 2030 electricity mix of 22-24 percent renewables, 20-22 percent nuclear and 56 percent fossil fuels including 27 percent gas and 26 percent coal.

In the fiscal year to March 2017, fossil fuels accounted for 83 percent of Japan’s electricity, renewables 15 percent and nuclear just 2 percent.

The advisory panel, made up of industry and academic representatives and including Hitachi Ltd Chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi, did not give a proposed energy mix for future years.

It called for a further boost in renewable energy to make the sector a key and economically independent power source by 2050, citing accelerating development in hydrogen and energy storage technology.

While urging a shift away from coal, it also recommended the continued development and export of high-efficient coal power technology to help curb emissions overseas.

Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; editing by Richard Pullin