Photo/IllutrationHiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and Hitachi Ltd. explains his group's policy proposal regarding Japan’s energy policy on April 8 in the capital’s Otemachi district. (Hironori Kato)

The head of the nation's largest business group is calling on the government to extend the maximum service lifespan for nuclear reactors beyond the current 60 years, saying Japan faces an electricity crisis.

The policy and action proposal was made by Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), led by Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Hitachi Ltd.

In its April 8 proposal titled “Reconstructing the electricity system that supports Japan,” Keidanren said periods when nuclear reactors are shut down for maintenance or other reasons should be excluded from their operational terms.

Currently, nuclear power plants are allowed to have an operating life of 40 years, but a one-time extension of 20 years may be granted in exceptional cases under a law enacted after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It is the first time for Keidanren to issue a policy recommendation pertaining to nuclear energy since fall 2017.

Nakanishi, who holds an executive position in a company that has a major stake in the nuclear industry, became chairman of the nation’s most powerful business lobby last spring. The proposal was put together at his initiative.

It stated that since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, the nation's dependence on fossil fuels has increased as more than 80 percent of Japan's energy needs are supplied by thermal energy. It also noted there is a limit to renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

“Japan is facing a crisis in terms of being able to generate electricity,” the proposal concluded.

It renewed a call for resuming operations at nuclear reactors and building new ones. The report also called on the government to improve the network of energy transmission and distribution to increase the ratio of renewable energy.

Citing recent moves in the United States to extend the operating life of nuclear reactors to 80 years, Keidanren stated that safety issues concerning the operation period of more than 60 years should be “examined from the technical viewpoint.”

Since the 2011 nuclear disaster, many nuclear reactors remain shut down due to fierce local opposition to restarts.

Keidanren, noting that eight years have already passed since the disaster, argued that the period should not be included in the 40-year operational life of the reactors as it accounts for 20 percent of the total. It suggests that the operational life should be extended while taking safeguard measures against aging reactors.

However, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the nation's nuclear watchdog, said it has no plans to consider extending the operational spans of nuclear reactors.

“Increasing the proportion of nuclear energy is the most realistic way” to step up efforts against global warming, Nakanishi said at a news conference on April 8. “I will think what other available options remain if that becomes impossible.”

Since late last year, Nakanishi has been urging the government to “engage in a national debate” on policy.

“Ensuring a stable supply of electricity is a challenge for society as a whole. It cannot be solved solely by experts,” Nakanishi said at the news conference.

Keidanren is clearly disgruntled with the government's basic energy plan that the Abe Cabinet approved last July to plot energy policy for 2030 and 2050 as it does not include programs to build new or additional nuclear reactors in Japan.

Hitachi and other manufacturers have suffered major setbacks as the Abe administration's push to export nuclear technology, a key pillar of economic recovery, has failed to cut deals overseas. As a result, electric power companies and manufacturers are finding it harder to continue in the nuclear business.

However, Nakanishi’s overture for a “national debate” on nuclear energy would also appear to be selective in light of a proposal in February by Tokyo-based civil group the Federation of Promotion of Zero-Nuclear Power and Renewable Energy to have a public debate with Keidanren, which he rebuffed.

“It’s pointless to have a debate with people who emotionally oppose nuclear energy,” Nakanishi said at the time.

Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer and secretary-general of the federation, said, “It cannot be called a national debate if it’s only done by pro-nuclear people in their own little world.”

Kawai also blasted Nakanishi for taking advantage of his position as chief of Keidanren to pursue his business interests.

"The policy recommendation is nothing less than a self-serving proposal that should be condemned,” he said.

(This article was written by Hironori Kato and Rintaro Sakurai.)