In his remarks beginning the opening session, JAIF Chairman MIMURA Akio noted “the increasing global movement toward the active use of nuclear power.” He then made several observations looking back on the past fiscal year (April 2023 to March 2024), as follows:

In April 2023, participants to the G7 Climate, Energy and Environment Ministers Meeting in Sapporo (with Japan chairing the G7 gatherings) advocated the maximum use of nuclear energy. Also, at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, known commonly as the Conference of the Parties (COP28), which was held in Dubai in December of the same year, released the first-ever official COP document affirmatively evaluating nuclear energy. At the same conference as well, 25 countries issued a declaration to triple global nuclear generating capacity.

Chairman Mimura also pointed out that Nuclear Energy Summit—the first summit meeting focused on nuclear energy―had been held in Brussels last month (March 2024), with participants from 37 countries. That summit was co-hosted by the Belgium government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In light of those trends, the JAIF chairman reiterated that “global movements are accelerating” and asked, “In the midst of the strong promotional momentum for nuclear energy worldwide, what should we, the Japanese nuclear industry, do?” Thus did he bring to life the meaning of the conference’s keynote theme.

Sessions 1 and 2 followed the opening session on April 9, with participants further exploring the keynote theme of “what the Japanese nuclear industry should do now.” Session 1 was entitled “Improving the Environment of Nuclear Business Toward Carbon Neutrality,” and Session 2 explored the theme of “Challenges on the Backend: Spent Fuel Management and HLW Final Disposal,” On April 10, then—the second and final day of the conference, both Sessions 3 and 4 were held, the former concerning the subject of “Fukushima Daiichi Decommissioning Progress and Reconstruction Status of Fukushima” and the latter dealing with “Strengthening the Human Resources Base in the Nuclear Industry.”

In his opening remarks, Chairman Mimura asked for vigorous discussions, saying, “I strongly hope that issues will be illuminated through these sessions in the pursuit of the maximum use of nuclear energy, and that clues will be found to resolving Japanese and global energy and environmental issues.”

Next to speak at the opening was IWATA Kazuchika, state minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), who restated the fundamental attitude when dealing with nuclear energy as follows: “keeping always in mind the reflections on the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, acting in a self-disciplined manner, and maintaining safety as the top priority.”

Given the damage to energy infrastructure owing to the Noto Peninsula Earthquake on January 1 of this year and the state of rebuilding, Iwata repeated that the lesson there was that “constant efforts to improve safety are important.” He continued, “Any momentary lapse in attention can result in a loss of confidence that had taken many years to build up.”

Iwata referred to the fact that since the massive earthquake in March 2011, opportunities have been nonexistent to build new nuclear power plants (NPPs) in Japan, adding that he was concerned that “the business environment supporting the nuclear industry, including supply chains and the development and securing of human resources, is steadily becoming more endangered every year.”

Looking at the construction of next-generation advanced reactors, the promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle, and the dealing with back-end issues in the future, Iwata stated the government’s intent of meeting the challenge of improving and developing the business environment, and said that it would “further strengthen political support for building resilient supply chains.”

Following that, CHIGUSA Naoki, CEO of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), and Daniel PONEMAN, former deputy secretary of energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), also made presentations, the latter via video.

Chigusa initiated his comments talking about WANO’s activities. Established in 1989 in the wake of the Chernobyl accident of 1986, WANO has sought to be the “world’s leader” in the enhancement of safety, engaging in exchanges of information, sharing best practices, and more, for over 35 years. WANO’s members have 460 NPPs in operation and 60 NPPs under construction. Saying WANO’s wealth of data and analyses contribute to “more countries building new NPPs,” Chigusa stressed its global effectiveness, and asked the nuclear industry to provide further support.

Citing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, meanwhile, he expressed concern that “the war presents quite a grave situation for all NPPs in Ukraine.” WANO, he said, in cooperation with the IAEA, has dispatched a taskforce to the Zaporizhzhia NPP and is providing psychological care to local people there.

Poneman’s presentation was entitled “New Perspectives on Energy Strategy and the Role of Nuclear Power.” He had previously delivered a presentation at a JAIF annual conference (in 2017) and looked back on the significance of cooperating with JAIF.

He then emphasized the role of nuclear energy in achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, saying that its contribution was not limited to the power sector, and that nuclear energy would have a role in the decarbonization of the transport sector as the use of electric vehicles increases. He said that he foresaw technological reform by the industry and declared the need to further expand nuclear power within the global energy scheme.

Regarding the increase in energy demand stemming from the expanding use of data centers and AI, he expressed his concerns by saying, “The speed is so explosive that it cannot be covered even by building new NPPs.” Referring then to the limits of renewable energies―and the realities of nuclear energy―Poneman said, “While there will not be an all-around consensus, people must squarely confront these kinds of very serious concerns.” Thus was a trail blazed for the discussions to come at the conference.