New industry minister vows to secure stable energy supply in Japan

New industry minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Wednesday pledged to secure stable energy supply for Japan, including an increased use of nuclear power.

Japan appears to have enough energy to get through this hot summer but the reserve rate of electricity will dwindle further this winter, as most of the nuclear power plants in the country remain offline under stricter safety regulations introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.

An increasing number of thermal power plants in the country have also been closed down due to aging.

"In order to secure stable energy supply, we will explore all necessary options including taking advantage of nuclear power after safety was assured," Nishimura told a press conference after he took up the post of minister of economy, trade and industry in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Asked whether he intends to allow power companies to build new nuclear power plants or replace existing ones, Nishimura said he has no such intention or plan at this point in accordance with the government's policy.

Prior to Nishimura's press conference, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed hope that his new industry minister will find a way to secure stable energy supplies at reasonable prices, a hurdle needs to be cleared before shifting the country's economy into green transformation, or GX, a critical component of Kishida's vision for a new capitalism.

Nishimura said nuclear power is a baseload source of electricity critical for achieving a carbon neutral society.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will steadily advance necessary measures for the future such as "research and development of next-generation and advanced reactors, fostering human resources, and maintenance and reinforcement of nuclear supply chain," he said.

Regarding the Sakhalin 2 oil and gas project in the Russian Far East, Nishimura said there is no policy change in keeping interests of the project as it is vital for stable natural gas supply.

The minister added he plans to exchange opinions with two Japanese trading houses that have been investing in the project.

Mitsui & Co. and Mitsubishi Corp. hold 12.5 percent and 10 percent stakes in Sakhalin 2, respectively, and they need to inform the Russian government as to whether they will join a new operating company of the project by Sept. 4, based on a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Besides the issue of stable energy supply, METI faces multiple pending issues such as recovery from the nuclear accident and a plan to discharge treated water containing tritium into the sea from next spring.

"I would like to visit Fukushima as soon as possible and exchange a variety of opinions with relevant parties," Nishimura said.

© Kyodo News