Power Line
The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan Vol.13
August 2001

Nuclear Power Combats Global Warming
Ongoing Efforts of Japanese Electric Power Companies

Global Warming Issues

From January to March of this year, the first, second and third working groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their third assessment reports. According to these reports, by the end of the twenty-first century, global warming is predicted to raise average global temperatures by up to 5.8°C and sea levels by up to 88cm from 1990 levels. As the result of a 40-cm rise in sea levels, 75 to 200 million people will be adversely affected by flooding. In addition, agricultural production and other industries in developing countries will be seriously impacted.

One of today's most urgent issues faced by Japan's electric power industry is the need to reduce CO2 emissions, the major contributor to global warming. Japanese electric power utilities are making self-directed and vigorous efforts to reduce these emissions and create a recycling-oriented society, in which the burden on our environment is reduced.


Trump Card Over Global Warming

Nuclear power is essential, not only as it enhances the energy security of resource-poor Japan, but it also in its role as an energy source that can support a recycling-oriented society. Currently, nuclear power supplies a little over 30 percent of the nation's electricity needs. It is estimated that without nuclear power, Japan's crude oil imports would have increased by nearly 30 percent, or 77 million kl, in fiscal 1999. If these 77 million kl of oil had been used in thermal power plants to produce electricity, CO2 emissions would have increased by some 200 million tons. This is equivalent to approximately 20 percent of Japan's gross CO2 emissions. Thus the promotion of nuclear power, which is highly effective in curbing CO2 emissions, is imperative in the battle against global warming.

When taking nuclear development into account within a recycling-oriented society, it is important to consider the establishment of a nuclear fuel cycle. A nuclear fuel cycle aims to re-utilize as fuel the uranium and plutonium that have been recovered from spent nuclear fuel. Because Japan relies on foreign sources for as much as 80 percent of its primary energy resources, the nuclear fuel cycle is an effective system for achieving a steady energy supply.

The Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry has calculated the total CO2 emissions for electrical generation by nuclear, thermal (oil, coal and LNG), hydro, geothermal, photovoltaic and wind power plants throughout their life cycles. Their survey shows that CO2 emissions intensity (CO2 emissions per 1 kWh) of nuclear power — including all related activities such as the mining and milling of uranium ore, power generation, and even the back-end process in the nuclear fuel cycle, such as spent fuel reprocessing and radioactive waste disposal — is much smaller compared to those of other sources. As such, given the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear power is the best available power source in efforts to combat global warming.

Estimated Resource Savings by Recycling