Why Japan finds coal hard to quit

Addiction to coal-fired power undermines Tokyo’s green credentials

From Nikkei Asian Review

ERI SUGIURA and AKANE OKUTSU, Nikkei staff writers November 21, 2018 15:17 JST

TOKYO/KOBE, Japan — In Japan’s port city of Kobe, a pair of 150-meter high white chimneys tower over the bay. Located just beside a residential area only 15 minutes by car from the city center, the chimneys belong to a giant 1.4-gigawatt coal-fired power plant that is about to loom even larger over residents’ lives.

Brushing aside protests from environmentalists and locals, plant owner Kobe Steel started construction last month on a huge expansion project that will double the size — and the emissions — of the Kobe Power Plant. More than 14 million tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants are expected to belch each year from the enlarged plant’s chimneys by 2022 — more than the entire CO2 emissions of the 1.5 million-strong city of Kobe.

Residents are fighting back with lawsuits, the first of which was filed in September. “My son and I have had asthma since we moved here more than 20 years ago,” said Hideko Kondo, who lives in a fume-filled block of flats just 400 meters from the power plant. “Some neighbors have moved away after hearing about the expansion plans.”

Kondo and 39 other residents are seeking an injunction against Kobe Steel to halt construction and operation of the new plant, citing the “infringement of the right to live sustainably with clean air in a healthy and peaceful environment.” It is only the second lawsuit in Japan to target carbon dioxide emissions. Kobe Steel declined to comment for this article.

Protesters look out over the Kobe Steel power plant from an apartment balcony in Kobe on Nov. 2. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Protesters look out over the Kobe Steel power plant from an apartment balcony in Kobe on Nov. 2. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

The Kobe project is one of more than 30 new power stations being planned or built by Japan that burn coal — the dirtiest and most polluting fossil fuel and one which is being phased out by some 30 governments around the world.

“Coal goes directly against the global trend because it is the worst fuel, based on its volume of carbon dioxide emission,” said Takeshi Shimamura, a professor at Kobe University who supports the residents’ group.

Japan is the only G-7 country still planning new coal-fired power stations. Its continued love affair with the black, sooty fuel sits ill with the green rhetoric of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government and with the country’s status as host of the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which committed nearly 200 nations to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“We must save both the green of the earth and the blue of its oceans,” Abe wrote in an op-ed for the Financial Times in September bearing the headline “Join Japan and act now to save our planet.”

“All countries must engage with the same level of urgency,” Abe wrote. “We must simultaneously boost economic growth and reduce the use of fossil fuels.”

Kimiko Hirata, international director of the Kiko Network, an environmental group, said that while Abe’s words were welcome, his actions told a different story. “I was shocked by his expression ‘join Japan,’ given that the prime minister has not shown leadership in environmental policies domestically,” Hirata told the Nikkei Asian Review, “and that Japan is severely criticized by experts overseas for not putting enough effort toward reducing CO2 emission.”

Japan’s pro-coal power policies are not just a domestic issue. Through its banks and international development agencies, Japan is funding a wave of huge coal-fired power plants from Vietnam to Indonesia. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation in the last three years has announced plans to provide up to $5.2 billion in financing for six coal-related projects.

Environmentalists worry that the extra CO2 generated by these new coal plants in Asia could more than wipe out any reductions made by other nations, jeopardizing progress toward meeting U.N. global targets. According to the International Energy Agency, Asia accounted for two-thirds of the 1.4% global growth in energy-related CO2 emissions in 2017, owing to rising fossil fuel demand.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6% between 2008 and 2012, but they began rising in around 2011. This is due, in part, to the Fukushima disaster, when three nuclear reactors melted down after being badly damaged in a tsunami.

Halting the country’s nuclear reactors has led to an increased reliance on fossil fuels, which rose to 84% of Japan’s energy mix in 2016 from 65% in 2010. Greenhouse emissions increased by about 7% between 2010 and 2012, according to data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Protesters arrive at the Osaka District Court on Nov. 19 to sue the Japanese government over its policy on coal-fired power plants. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Protesters arrive at the Osaka District Court on Nov. 19 to sue the Japanese government over its policy on coal-fired power plants. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Japanese government officials justify their reliance on coal by citing cost, security of supply concerns and the need for a diverse energy mix. Coal power plants are “necessary” because “the resource is cheap and more economical with scale,” Shogo Tanaka, director of the Energy Strategy Office at METI, told the Nikkei Asian Review.

One alternative is to increase the use of liquefied natural gas, which emits less carbon and noxious exhaust, but Tanaka said this is not desirable because LNG prices may rise due to higher demand from China and India.

In 2015, Japan set a goal of reducing coal’s share of electricity generation to 26% by 2030, down from 32% in 2016. To achieve this, renewables such as solar and wind power would produce 22-24% of the country’s electricity, compared with 15% in 2016.

But even this relatively unambitious green energy target depends on restarting most of Japan’s 18 nuclear power plants, which have been halted since the Fukushima disaster. Many experts question whether the restart program is realistic, given the technical, cost and safety hurdles involved.

Environmental NGO Greenpeace Japan said METI’s plan “lacks ambition and urgency” because “its coal ratio is far too high, and the ratio for nuclear power is wholly unrealistic.” Greenpeace noted that Japan’s target for renewable energy is low compared to many EU nations, whose individual targets exceed 50% by 2030. The EU as a whole recently announced a goal of increasing the share of renewables to 32% by 2030 from the previous target of 27%.

Japan would need about 30 operating reactors by 2030 to achieve its goal of generating 22% of power from nuclear, but only nine are currently working. If nuclear power generation fails to reach the target, “it is not certain if renewable energy can make up for it,” Tanaka said.

As a result, experts say coal’s share of Japan’s energy mix may actually rise over the next decade. According to one unpublished study by an international group and seen by the Nikkei Asian Review, coal’s share of Japanese power would increase to 46% by 2030 if pure market forces prevail. Should nuclear only account for half of its planned capacity, coal’s share would be even greater, at 56%.

Japan is unusual among developed countries for still planning new coal plants. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international commitment to keep the global rise in temperatures below 2 C from preindustrial levels, opposition to the use of coal has become the norm in many advanced economies.

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to eliminate coal-fired power by 2021, a step the UK has said it will take by 2025. While Germany is a coal producer and relies on coal power for about 40% of its energy — largely because it phased out nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster — it is still aiming to increase the contribution of renewables to 65% of its energy mix by 2030.

Kobe Steel is expanding its coal-fired power plant in Kobe, which is expected to double the plant’s emissions. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Kobe Steel is expanding its coal-fired power plant in Kobe, which is expected to double the plant’s emissions. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

In such company, Japan is increasingly seen as a laggard. At the U.N. climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, last year, Japan was one of the recipients of the Fossil of the Day award, given to the country judged to have done the most to block progress during the negotiations by the Climate Action Network, a network of environmental nongovernment organizations.

Criticism has come from inside the country, too, with Foreign Minister Taro Kono calling Japan’s energy policy “lamentable” last January. “For too long, Japan has turned a blind eye to global trends, such as the dramatic decrease in the price of renewables and the inevitable shift to decarbonization in the face of climate change,” the minister said.


To be fair, Japan faces some formidable obstacles in pursuing clean, sustainable power, not least from its geography — a largely mountainous interior with the population heavily concentrated along relatively small and narrow coastal strips of flat land.

METI’s Tanaka said these factors make renewable energy more costly in Japan than in other countries. Solar generation, for example, is twice as expensive per kilowatt hour in Japan as it is in Europe because of the limited amount of suitable land and the cost of construction for solar farms.

Japan also lacks a national electricity grid. The nation’s power supply is generally divided into 10 service areas, each with its own transmission network, which means there is limited capability, for example, to send solar energy produced in the south of the country to the north. There are plans for building a few connections between the networks, but one line would cost more than 100 billion yen and take 5 to 10 years to complete.

Wind power, which has rapidly caught on in Europe, is limited to just 1.7% of Japan’s planned total renewable energy supply. The government says that viable locations for offshore wind farms in Japan tend to be far from areas where there is demand for electricity, and construction costs are high because of how far the wind turbines would have to be built from the shore. Opposition from the powerful fishing lobby is another problem.

A JRE wind farm in Sakata: Japan’s industry ministry says high costs are a hurdle to expanding renewable energy. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

A JRE wind farm in Sakata: Japan’s industry ministry says high costs are a hurdle to expanding renewable energy. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

With an uncertain outlook for renewables, some Japanese power companies prefer to work on minimizing the environmental damage from burning coal. Coal-fired power plant operator Electric Power Development, better known as J-Power, is investing in carbon capture and storage technology, which collects and buries carbon dioxide to keep it out of the atmosphere.

According to a 2014 estimate by the Environment Ministry, it cost would cost 10,500 yen [$93] to capture and sequester 1 ton of greenhouse gas emissions. This is likely cheaper than reducing emissions via renewable energy sources, a ministry official said.

J-Power has plans to build three new coal-fired plants, one of which will replace an old plant. The company also set up this year a joint venture with Sumitomo Forestry to manufacture and sell wood pellets, creating a source of biomass fuel to mix with coal in J-Power’s thermal plants. “It is important that Japan has diverse sources of energy,” a J-Power corporate planning executive said.

Experts like Hiroshi Segawa, a professor of energy and environment at the University of Tokyo, are unimpressed by such arguments. “There is a complete lack of sustainability and of a national strategy to realize the [planned] energy mix in the long term,” Segawa said. “The dependence on coal-fired plants might increase further, going in the opposite direction to the global trend.”

Segawa believes several factors have been hindering Japan’s shift toward renewables. “The government is probably giving priority to heavy industrial firms who manufacture nuclear plants,” he said.

That view is echoed by executives at Japan Renewable Energy, a solar, wind and biomass power operator backed by Goldman Sachs Group. The company has only limited access to the power transmission network, making it harder to pursue new renewable projects.

“Major power companies are still securing power grids to prepare for re-operation of nuclear plants at some future time,” said Koki Yoshino, executive officer of the firm. The result, he said, is that power plant projects for JRE and other solar and wind power generators have stalled.

A study by Kyoto University professor Yoh Yasuda found that only 19.4% of power grids are actually used nationwide, while the rest are empty.

“We would prefer regulations on the use of existing network to open the market for renewable energy industry,” said Yoshino from JRE.

Read the full story here






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November 26, 2018 10:23 pm

Kobe Steel has been operating an enormous steel-making, industrial complex on this site for 115 years.
These clowns rock up and build apartment blocks immediately adjacent to it, 100 years AFTER it commenced operating.
They are dumber than the people who purchase houses next to airports then complain about the aircraft noise.

November 26, 2018 10:49 pm

Why Japan finds coal hard to quit?

It works

They are culturally less disposed to virtue signalling

Reply to  yarpos
November 27, 2018 8:36 am

It is ENTIRELY down to the post Fukushima reactor shut down.

anyway, given the decreasing Japanese population, have they not figured their power demand is going to go down?

Pat Frank
Reply to  yarpos
November 27, 2018 8:57 am

Speaking of an addiction to coal is like speaking of an addiction to oxygen. “Addiction” is a complete misuse of language.

Japan wouldn’t survive without the cheap energy from burning coal, just as much as its population would not survive without breathing oxygen.

Mike Lowe
Reply to  Pat Frank
November 27, 2018 12:12 pm

Agreed, Pat. =The wording used is entirely inappropriate, unless you are a dedicated ignorant Greenie. “Brushing aside…”, “fighting back….’. “Healthy and peaceful environment…”. “Dirtiest and most polluting….” “the green of the earth and the blue of its oceans…”. Etc. Emotional untrue claptrap, but beautifully phrased to mislead kids, students, and it seems teachers.

Phil Rae
November 26, 2018 10:53 pm

It all sounds so familiar! Government ministers making blah blah noises to assuage the green blob, industry looking for ways to make money out of subsidies, increasing taxes and tariffs for consumers to subsidise useless “renewables” and all kinds of stupid “initiatives” – can you imagine $90/ton to sequester CO2, a harmless and essential component of the Earth’s atmosphere! WhT a joke!

Phillip Bratby
November 26, 2018 10:54 pm

Since when has the gas of life in Japan (CO2) become a pollutant?

Thomas Homer
Reply to  Phillip Bratby
November 27, 2018 7:24 am


There is no “green of the earth” without Carbon Dioxide.

CO2 feeds life.

Walter Sobchak
November 26, 2018 10:54 pm

Rock on Japan. Be your bad self. Ignore the Euro wienies who promise one thing and do the precise opposite. Like Germany with its ever growing lignite use. Besides, we have lots of coal to sell you, also LNG if you want that.

November 26, 2018 11:00 pm

This is Germany’s IEA pie graph for TOTAL energy. Note that coal provides 25.5% of TOTAL energy and Geo+clueless S&wind just 3.5% and this is after decades of trying to increase the use of S&Wind. What a barking mad joke at the cost of 100s of billions of Euros for a ZERO return.

Remember this is the EU’s poster child for so called renewable energy generation. Of course China is 66.7% coal and the hated USA just 17.1%.


Here is the IEA pie chart for Japan showing coal at 27.3% and clueless Geo + S&W at just 1.4% of TOTAL energy.


November 26, 2018 11:34 pm

Japan, India, and China have continued to use coal to generate power.
Perhaps they realize that CO2 is not a bad thing. It warms us and cools us and feeds us. If it should indeed double to 800 ppm, that will produce a 1.3% increase in its GHG effect, totally submerged in the other eight influences on climate. Bravo. We have more coal than natural gas, and nuclear of course is not an option.

And we need oil for our cars, which we will be reluctant to give up.
Which brings up the idea that we should be in favor of using the petroleum reserves of the rest of the world before extracting ours… eh?

November 27, 2018 12:17 am

They’re still trying to clean up the 3 nuclear reactors which melted down at the Daiichi Power Plant – which are still burning .

They still have no idea where the core is located.

Although they still roughly 42 reactors online, coal is the backup plan.

Reply to  cinaed
November 27, 2018 4:29 pm

“which are still burning ”

Do you believe in Santa Claus too?

November 27, 2018 12:30 am

The Japanese have been unduly cautious about restarting their nuclear power plants but have begun doing so rcently and will accelerate. Only a few plants were deemed too expensive to upgrade to the
safety levels now required. This article is ignorant,not only about the restart of nuclear , but the imminence of the superior molten salt nuclear plants, producing power at about half that of conventional nuclear and ablto operate as a peak load generator as well as a baseload generator.

John Endicott
Reply to  kent beuchert
November 28, 2018 8:42 am

you keep saying how imminent molten salt nuclear plants are. Care to give us a date when the *first* commercial one goes online? No date then not imminent

Charles Nelson
November 27, 2018 12:57 am

The Japanese have cheaper electricity than us here in Australia…even though they are burning our coal!

November 27, 2018 1:39 am

With all the techinical know how the Japanese have, what are they doing with all the new “Clean Coal”designs we hear so much about. ?


Reply to  Michael
November 27, 2018 8:13 am

what are they doing with all the new “Clean Coal”designs we hear so much about. ?

Haven’t researched, but I’d bet heavily that they employ similar clean-up facilities at their coal plants as any US/Canadian/European country.

Reply to  beng135
November 27, 2018 8:52 am

They are most likely utilizing most of the “Clean Coal” designs in the new plants. Japan was and is still a world leader in developing new technologies. They help develop the super critical boilers to improve efficiency, developed back end equipment to remove harmful pollutants etc. These new coal fired power plants will be some of the cleanest in the world. I worked closely with some of their companies and helped them develop state of the art air quality control equipment.

November 27, 2018 2:38 am

Can greenies ever speak the truth?

That “chimney” is a cooling tower. All it emits is water vapour.

They continually garnish their stories with these lies by inference, than have the hide to expect we will be fool enough to believe anything they say.

Do try to grow up people. If you wish to rationally discuss anything, try starting from the knowledge that many others have at least as much knowledge as you,

I did not get past your first bit of lie by inference. Do come back if you want to talk only truth & fact. Otherwise don’t waste your & my time, with garbage articles..

Reply to  Hasbeen
November 27, 2018 9:37 am

Sorry, Hasbeen, but I disagree. That IS a chimney in the picture above and not a cooling tower. A cooling tower would be much wider, although of a similar height.

November 27, 2018 3:01 am

This article is typical fare from the Green Snake Oil and Planet Savers marketing handbook, should WUWT be posting it without comment?

Peta of Newark
November 27, 2018 4:33 am

Comparing the power plant, in the picture, to a UK coal plant:
There Is No Comparison. Kobe is clean and white and polished and nice.
Presumably cooling is done via the water in the background (I see no cooling towers), the coal is in those pristine white silos and the only black spot *might* be the orange/white thing – presumably the smoke stack.
What *is* coming off that? Scrubbed steam/water-vapour?

UK coal plants are sprawling, black and grubby places with coal carried in by open top rail-trucks then stored and handled out-of-doors.
That (Kobe) power plant looks more like a UK hospital than a power station.

So Japan is mostly mountainous.
Isn’t that a Good Place to put wind turbines?

So this Kondo character has lived in a ‘fume filled’ flat for 20 years, inflicting asthma not only on himself but his kid? Pictures please or it didn’t happen.
Apart from charges of child abuse, why not move out Mr Kondo? Were you chained to the floor?
Some other reason? Not at all to do with money I’m sure.
And now, because you understand the GHGE (explanation please. Let’s hear it) and someone has told you about ‘fumes’, you smell money

Hardly any clearer example of ‘Too Many Rats In The Cage” Too many people.
Sociable to start but as numbers and population density increase, suddenly a point comes where they start eating each other.
Rats do it literally with their teeth. Humans do it financially with lawyers.

And the usual little tangent:
After hostilities ended after WW2, Japanese folks were introduced to the delights of, generically, McDonalds.
They responded by eating burgers in huge quantity and apparently average height of The Typical Japanese Person increased by about 6″ within a generation.
Then, super superior know-it-all Western White Man and his doctors declared this to be because of all the extra protein they were eating.
Hang on hang on.
We read in this story that the Japs really love their fish so… How were they ‘short of protein?
But as we all know:
……Fish are low in fat.
……McDonalds are not.
And after WW2, would McD not have been using saturated fat in his recipes and cooking process?

It was the extra (saturated) fat in their diet that caused them to grow taller.
NB: NOT fatter.
Insane innit?

Travel extensively within your own country and watch people. Shows up *especially* in the part of the ‘fat processing’ population, namely= Young Women. The rich ones will be eating a lot of ‘meat’ in its broadest terms and with that meat will come inevitably, sat fat. And it shows.
And was recorded in post-war Japan.
Hello hello, maybe explains why Japanese folks will go to illegal extremes to catch and keep ‘whale’
What are whales famous for if not Whale Oil, and being mammals, this will be saturated fat.

Yet again we see how The Human Animal *cannot* pass off untruths.
We have a 6th sense for seeing that. Go stretch that muscle.

If you’re over 30, DO NOT go past the first 60 seconds unless you wanna risk heart attack anda hernia
One for your kids, try feed em something nutritious instead of soda pop and other tasteless mush.
They will become tall, elegant, intelligent & empathic and Climate Change will become a distant memory……

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Peta of Newark
November 27, 2018 4:52 am

2nd thoughts..
If you’ve ever wondered what its like to take/use acid/MDMA/Ecstasy and *never* have done… then DO try keep up with it.
*Very* High Energy stuff and not called Trance without good reason.

Think of the kCals you’ll burn – go on, bring a smile to your doctor’s face.
Lord knows they need it. As we’re hearing elsewhere round here today

November 27, 2018 7:11 am

“We must save both the green of the earth and the blue of its oceans,” Abe wrote in an op-ed for the Financial Times in September bearing the headline “Join Japan and act now to save our planet.”

Wow, listen to the wishy-washy language. Even the Japanese are now dumbed-down to green-fruitcake levels.

Reply to  beng135
November 27, 2018 7:24 am

Addendum — SOME of the Japanese are dumbed-down. Building more coal plants reveals that the energy planners are actually very smart. And the US has alot of coal reserves to export to them.

And I agree w/Peta above that, for a coal plant, the pictured one is pristine and from this engineer’s view, impressive.

Reply to  beng135
November 27, 2018 9:48 am

Building more coal plants is saving the green.
NASA has reported that the planet is greening thanks to more CO2 in the atmosphere.

November 27, 2018 7:26 am

Such a nice picture of the activists looking over the coal plant.

A picture that does not show any visible emissions.

If they do not like it, they should move.

Reg Nelson
November 27, 2018 9:11 am

” . . . Hideko Kondo, who lives in a fume-filled block of flats just 400 meters from the power plant.”

What fumes fill these flats? Is CO2 now a “fume”? If so, any building occupied by breathing humans is fume-filled.

michael hart
November 27, 2018 10:12 am

“Its continued love affair with the black, sooty fuel sits ill with the green rhetoric of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government…”

Same old same old lies. Modern coal plants are easily built with scrubbing facilities for acidic gases and particulate matter, such that nothing visible or harmful comes out of them at all (except maybe for clouds of white steam, which the BBC was again today showing in a photograph detailing the ‘evils’ of carbon dioxide).

Japan in 2019 is more than rich enough and competent enough to build the best coal-fired power stations in the world. It strikes me as insulting, bordering on racism, to suggest otherwise. Typical rubbish green journalism.

Clay Sanborn
November 27, 2018 11:08 am

All this political and environmental posturing about CO2. And there’s the rub – that mankind’s release of some of nature’s captured CO2 – is a non-problem.

November 28, 2018 2:05 am

Seems that the Bank of Japan is spreading the word that coal fired power stations are good. So combine the output with the ones already running in both India and China and its all over for the planet, or so the Greenies tell us.

So what is the point in the Western countries for us to near bankrupt ourselves to make the Paris agreement ? work.

If we are already Doomed, lets just enjoy what is left of life.

MJE ii

November 28, 2018 2:14 am

As the Bank of Japan is building coal fired power station not only in Japan, but in South East Asia, then its all over for the rest of us. Combine the CO2 output from both India and China, and its all too late.

So why worry about Paris and its 1.5 C, we are all gong to die anyway, the Greens say so, so lets live it up and enjoy ourselves while we can.


November 28, 2018 4:17 am

The Greens are purposely leaving out a very important piece in their sustainability argument…rationing. In the end, not one of their schemes work without it. They fight tooth and nail to get regulatory policy in place that pushes society further out on the renewables limb, until a tipping point is reached when society is confronted with the last choice…turn it OFF.

John Endicott
November 28, 2018 8:35 am

“My son and I have had asthma since we moved here more than 20 years ago,” said Hideko Kondo, who lives in a fume-filled block of flats just 400 meters from the power plant. “Some neighbors have moved away after hearing about the expansion plans.”

1) Sorry Hideko-san, but you knew the power plant and industrial complex was there some 400 meters away from the flat when you moved in. knowing that why did you move there in the first place? and why didn’t you move out as soon as your son and you developed asthma 20 years ago shortly after moving in?

2) what “fumes” are filling the block of flats? If the answer is CO2, sorry to break it to you but your flats will be “CO2 fume-filled” even if there was no power plant, as long as they are occupied by living creatures (such as Hideko-san and his son) that breathe.

November 29, 2018 11:10 pm

““My son and I have had asthma since we moved here more than 20 years ago,” said Hideko Kondo, who lives in a fume-filled block of flats just 400 meters from the power plant. “Some neighbors have moved away after hearing about the expansion plans.””

The plant wasn’t built until 2002. So if her and her son have had asthma for more than 20 years it PREDATES the power plant be at least 5 years. Meaning it wasn’t caused by the power plant.

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