By Paul Homewood
The BBC – where “news from Japan” means talking to a 70 year old eco-activist!
It’s a glorious autumn afternoon and I’m standing on a hillside looking out over Tokyo Bay. Beside me is Takao Saiki, a usually mild-mannered gentleman in his 70s.
But today Saiki-San is angry.
“It’s a total joke,” he says, in perfect English. “Just ridiculous!”
The cause of his distress is a giant construction site blocking our view across the bay – a 1.3-gigawatt coal-fired power station in the making.
“I don’t understand why we still have to burn coal to generate electricity,” says Saiki-San’s friend, Rikuro Suzuki. “This plant alone will emit more than seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year!”
Suzuki-San’s point is a good one. Shouldn’t Japan be cutting its coal consumption, not increasing it, at a time of great concern about coal’s impact on the climate?
So why the coal? The answer is the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In 2010 about one third of Japan’s electricity came from nuclear power, and there were plans to build a lot more. But then the 2011 disaster hit, and all Japan’s nuclear power plants were shut down. Ten years later most remain closed – and there is a lot of resistance to restarting them.
In their place Japan’s gas-fired power stations have been doing a lot of overtime. But, as Britain has found out recently, natural gas is expensive.
So, the Japanese government decided to build 22 new coal-fired power stations, to run on cheap coal imported from Australia. Economically it made sense. Environmentally, not so much. Japan is now under intense pressure to stop using coal.
The BBC is still spitting its dummy out over Japan’s intention to carry on building 22 new coal power stations in the next five years, with combined carbon dioxide emissions of 74 million tonnes, about a quarter of Britain’s total emissions.
There is talk of eventually producing blue hydrogen from coal, and converting the plants to burn that instead. However that really is pie in the sky, as it would need carbon capture in the hydrogen process. If you have that, you might just as well use it in the coal plants themselves and carry on burning coal.
The reality is that CCS can only capture a proportion of the carbon dioxide. Meanwhile blue hydrogen will always be horribly expensive.
Of course, the BBC’s preferred solution is renewables:
“Japanese companies need cheap electricity to be competitive and they need clean electricity to be internationally acceptable. That means they need renewable electricity. Delaying this development will harm the Japanese economy.”
However, there might be one slight snag with that!
BP Energy Review
It might not have occurred to the BBC, but Japan cannot simply import electricity when wind and solar are not working flat out. It has no interconnectors, and I doubt very much whether it would want to be totally reliant on Russia or China for its power.
With the shutdown of nuclear power, Japan has little alternative to using fossil fuels, regardless of what the BBC and Saiki-San might think.