Photo/IllutrationGrowth strategies are discussed at the summer forum of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) on July 19 in Nagano Prefecture. (Hironori Kato)

Business leaders questioned the future of the nuclear power industry at a meeting of Japan's largest business group, with some arguing that renewable energy solutions are more in line with global trends.

While Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) has consistently favored restarts of suspended reactors across the nation, arguments among members have also emerged over related issues such as the high associated costs of nuclear power generation.

The brainstorming session on energy issues, a major theme of the group's summer forum, was held July 19 at a hotel in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture.

While many of the 10 business leaders expressed positive opinions on "assisting with the resumption of operations of idle reactors," Fumiya Kokubu, chairman of major trading house Marubeni Corp., raised doubts, asking, "Is this really the best choice?"

His remark referred to the central government's basic energy plan whereby nuclear power generation and renewable energy are projected to account for 20 to 22 percent and 22 to 24 percent, respectively, of Japan's total power output in fiscal 2030.

"Japan invests an increasing amount of funds in nuclear power plants, going against global trends," Kokubu said, citing efforts by European nations to promote the use of renewable energy.

Kosei Shindo, chairman of Nippon Steel Corp., however, countered the sentiment, saying, "You should be careful, given that the term 'global trend' typically refers only to the energy industry in Europe."

He also pointed out that China and many other countries promote nuclear energy production.

"Different countries face different circumstances," said Shindo. "The current energy plan was developed based on general data and knowledge, taking into account Japan's economic circumstances."

Meanwhile, Shindo and others actively discussed growing criticism against coal-fired power stations, as operating such a facility is considered to go against global efforts to mitigate global warming.

Shindo expressed positive views about Japanese companies building coal-fired power plants overseas, arguing that they possess advanced technologies to reduce harmful emissions.

Despite that, megabanks in Japan have in recent months announced policies to curb their investments in and lending to coal power generation facilities, given the global anti-coal sentiment.

Shindo questioned the stance of the banks, saying: "Financial institutions are working to restrict (loans for coal power generation). Plants cannot be installed without funds."

In response to the criticism, Yasuhiro Sato, chairman of Mizuho Financial Group Inc., briefed Shindo on the banking group’s stances.

“We're not saying we won't lend money for fossil (fuel power generation),” Sato said. “We will extend loans to facilities using advanced (environmental) technologies. Our insufficient explanations may have caused some misunderstandings."

In March, Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren, described those who oppose nuclear energy as 'emotional,' underscoring Keidanren's attitude toward nuclear power production and triggering a wave of protests.