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3. A government that supports the use of coal

The Japanese Government’s Problematic “3 E” Policy

Japanese energy policy has been based on the so-called “3 E” policy: energy security, economic efficiency, and environment.  As it seeks to achieve the “best mix” of the different sources of electricity, Japan has designated fossil fuel based energy to be especially essential for energy security reasons and environmental aspects have always been less prioritized. As a result of the government’s imbalanced emphasis on fossil fuel, Japan has been increasing its use of coal even though the dangers of climate change become increasingly more significant.

No measures to reduce CO2 emissions

Coal fired power plants produce large amounts of CO2 emissions (see section 5), but the Japanese government has done little to restrict their use.  In 2003, in response to increased awareness of environmental issues, the government added coal to the petroleum tax thus creating the petroleum and coal tax.  The fact the coal is cheap, however, has not changed and the trend of increased use of coal continues. The EU (European Union) has a system to limit CO2 emissions (the cap and trade system), and businesses have an incentive to reduce emissions.  In the US, President Obama is also contemplating a restriction on CO2 emissions from new coal fired power plants.  Japan, on the other hand, lacks any such movement.

Is “innovative technology” the solution to environmental issues?

The Japanese government aims to reduce CO2 emissions while maintaining the use of coal through innovative technology.  The government asserts that recent coal fired power plants are very efficient.  Furthermore, it seeks to further advance the performance of coal-fired power plants with additional highly-efficient Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology.  The government also promotes the research of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), a process of capturing CO2 emissions and storing it deep underground to reduce atmospheric CO2. But, are these measures truly the solution? Even the most advanced coal fired power plants emit large amounts of CO2 (see section 5).  IGCC technology has been researched for practical application but has only been adopted at one power plant unit.  As for CCS technology, it may be a while before CCS will be fit for practical use.  Currently, neither IGCC nor CCS are practical forms of technology.

IGCC technology differs from the conventional system where power is generated from burning coal in boilers in that it includes a gasification furnace and gas turbine. Through this process, the gas turbine rotates by burning gasified coal while the steam turbine rotates from the steam generated from high temperature exhaust.

Mechanisms of Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle

(Source: “On Thermal Energy” February 2012, Agency for Natural Resources and Energy) (Source: Clean Coal Power R&D CO.

Promotion of coal contradicts climate change measures

To combat climate change, the Japanese government has decided that Japan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below the level of 1990(*) by 2050. On the other hand, a coal fired power plant functions for about 40 years once it is built.  Is there not a contradiction between Japan’s long-term emission reduction target and constructing facilities that will operated past 2050 which are a major source of CO2 emissions? If Japan is to achieve this goal by 2050, it must made the decision to avoid building coal fired generators. (*Japan lacks a mid-term target for 2020 and 2030 because of the decision to discard the 25% reduction target set by the previous administration.)