TOKYO -- Nuclear power is "indispensable" to decarbonizing Japan, industry minister Koichi Hagiuda said Tuesday, a sign that the new government under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will push hard to restart the country's reactors.
Most Japanese nuclear reactors have been offline since the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, due to tougher regulations and lingering public distrust over the fuel source. But Hagiuda suggested there is no other way for Japan to meet its goal to go carbon neutral by 2050.
"We need to pursue every option" to achieve net-zero emissions, said Hagiuda, who helms the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, in an interview with multiple news outlets.
"Nuclear power is indispensable when we think about how we can ensure a stable and affordable electricity supply while addressing climate change," he said, while stressing that safety will be the top priority in any scenario involving nuclear energy.
"We will work to restart Japan's nuclear reactors" with a focus on safety and with the understanding of local communities, he said. Former Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi had been reluctant to embrace the option.
Still, Hagiuda said there was no change at this time to the government's stance against rebuilding or constructing new nuclear facilities.
Under current Japanese regulations, nuclear reactors can only remain in operation for up to 60 years. This means that all current existing facilities will go offline by the 2060s at the latest.
Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party want the government to allow existing reactors to be replaced. Hagiuda did not outline any medium- to long-term plans on nuclear power beyond restarting existing facilities.
Regarding renewable energy, Hagiuda pledged "swift measures" to address shortcomings in existing power grids, which have forced solar farms to reduce output in the past. He cited the greater use of storage batteries as an example.
The new cabinet launched Monday is expected to approve Japan's new basic energy plan, drafted under former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, without any major adjustments by the end of October.
Hagiuda on Tuesday also touched on the semiconductor industry. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is wooing Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world's largest contract chipmaker, to set up shop in Japan to better meet domestic demand.
"I want to promote bringing more chip facilities to our country," Hagiuda said, and added that he aims to secure the necessary budget to make this happen.
One of Kishida's goals as premier is to create a "virtuous cycle of growth and distribution." As part of this push, Hagiuda said he will pursue stronger measures to stop large corporations from bullying smaller suppliers, such as by demanding prices well below market value.
"We will think of how we can create a framework where supplying companies feel secure," he said.