Green No More, Japan Is Building 30+ New Coal Power Plants

  • Date: 23/11/18
  • Nikkei Asian Review

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.

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)

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. [..]

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.

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.

Full story

Recent Popular Articles


We use cookies to help give you the best experience on our website. By continuing without changing your cookie settings, we assume you agree to this. Please read our privacy policy to find out more.