Energy Nuclear 10 August, 2021 10:00 am   
Editorial staff

Miyajima: It is good, when nuclear power plants are built by likeminded countries

Ambassador Akio Miyajima interview. Graphic: Gabriela Cydejko Ambassador Akio Miyajima interview. Graphic: Gabriela Cydejko

Japanese companies have a great working relationship with those Americans and French companies interested in Polish nuclear program – said Akio Miyajima, Ambassador of Japan to Poland. – We need to take into account all risks comprehensively and very carefully  because nuclear power plants are critical national security infrastructure lasting more than thirty years.  Those risks would be much lower if nuclear power plants would be developed by like-minded countries. How it is to be an Ambassador of Japan to Poland in times of pandemics?

Ambassador of Japan to Poland Akio Miyajima: I came here November last year at the beginning of the winter and at the peak of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope that successful Polish vaccination program will help me in meeting more Polish friends, going around the country and doing my job more efficiently and effectively. Now the Olympic Games are held in Tokyo.  Preparing for and holding a safe and secure Tokyo Olympic Games have been a great challenge for Japan and Japanese people. Unfortunately we had to decide there would be no spectators from abroad for the games and events, but still about 100 thousands of athletes and others from around the world are visiting Japan. I do hope that with the support and cooperation of international community we will succeed and demonstrate that we can unite and deliver the bright hope for the future despite this pandemic.

What are the possible areas of cooperation between Poland and Japan in the face of energy transition?

It is one of priorities of my work as Ambassador of Japan to Poland.  Energy cooperation will be an important part of our deeper bilateral relationship. We have a lot in common. Both countries are committed to open and free trade system. Japan and the European Union concluded the new Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to expand our trade and investment further, which came into effect at the beginning of 2019. The trade volume for the year 2019 increased by 6 % between Japan and EU, and by 25% between Japan and Poland compared to 2018. Because of the COVID-19 our bilateral trade volume did not expand in 2020 but still it was 20 percent more than 2018.  We also concluded last May when our Foreign Minister MOTEGI visited here the Action Plan for implementation of our Strategic Partnership for the years 2021-2025. Now we can create more positive cooperation based on the strengthened political and legal framework.

What about the energy sphere?

Japan and Poland have similar energy outlooks and common challenges. Japan is not self-sufficient at all when it comes to its energy needs.  More than 85% of our energy resources are coming from abroad: oil, coal and LNG need to be imported. Japan’s dependency on fossil fuels in 2018 was 85 percent. I have learned that Poland heavily relays on oil and gas from abroad, especially Russia, while it has a very good reach for coal.  They say Poland’s dependency on fossil fuels is more than 75 percent. Poland and Japan are geographically far apart but really close to each other when it comes to serious challenges of energy security and energy transition toward a climate neutral society. Both Poland and Japan need to decrease CO2 emissions drastically and maintain energy security in the same time. Japan is aiming at achieving the goal of climate neutral by 2050 and we are very serious about it. Data on volume of greenhouse gases emitted by EU countries in 2019 show that Poland emitted 370 million tones. We have Germany, France, Italy and then Poland, on the fourth place in Europe. Without success of Poland in energy transition, EU cannot succeed. We hope that with Japanese technology and more than 100 year-long history of friendship and trust between our nations we can achieve this goal together. That would be very beneficial not only for our countries but for EU and the world. I am very eager to learn more from Polish business circles and look for new possibilities of cooperation.

What are the areas of cooperation in energy sphere?

Hydrogen is obviously one of areas of our energy cooperation.  Toyota started an initiative to create a hydrogen ecosystem in which companies from Poland like PGNiG, Lotos and ZE PAK are interested in. They want to develop hydrogen stations network, increase security, and utilize hydrogen in railways, ships and passenger transport. We hear that soon Poland will have its first hydrogen fuel station. There are many areas for possible cooperation. Japanese companies have also advanced technologies of carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCUS), ammonia mixed combustion and floating wind power generation. Japan has GRID technologies of Hitachi and ABB, and battery storage technologies of  Nippon Gaishi as well. There is also a nuclear sphere for possible cooperation. We have been expanding cooperation for capacity building and research in Poland. We hear that there is a plan to build nuclear power plants in Poland. Based on our long and rich experience, Japan could cooperate in supply chains of important components, capacity building of experts and other areas. Japan has been using nuclear power for many, many years. After the devastating tsunami experience in 2011 Japan shut down all of 54 nuclear reactors.  We raised safety standards to the world highest level, and one by one reviewed them very carefully on their safety. We have already restarted 9 nuclear reactors out of 33 nuclear reactors Japan currently has. Under a draft plan of Japan’s energy mix in 2030, we will maintain share of nuclear energy at 20-22 percent, increase renewables energy to 36-38 percent (10 percent more than today). Our dependence on coal and natural gas should be reduced from 56 to 41 percent. We are aiming at making a cabinet decision in coming October on future Japanese energy mix to achieve the goal of climate neutrality by 2050. It is a huge challenge for Japan. But Polish challenges look even bigger. You need to increase renewables share sharply and start nuclear industry from the scratch. There is also this painful phasing out of coal. Most likely you will need to make a transit with the use of natural gas from coal. Those changes definitely takes a lot of time and tremendous costs, and need a good long term planning. Poland and Japan can work together to achieve the energy transition goals.

Are Tokyo Olympics showing the potential of your hydrogen technologies?

We would like to make a showcase of hydrogen society at Tokyo Olympics. Hydrogen power including hydrogen buses is used extensively there.  The other day here in Warsaw I had a chance to drive a Toyota MIRAI, their hydrogen car.  Actually I drove it together with Mr. Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, seven years ago in Tokyo when I worked for the Governor of Tokyo Metropolitan Government. I was very impressed with so many improvements including Head-Up Display (HUD) and body design. Toyota has the biggest market share in Poland with a lot of hybrid cars. Some say hybrid is not the answer to climate neutral society, but at the same time we can ask if electric cars are so clean when it depends on electricity mostly made by fossil fuels. There is a big discussion about it. Japan wants to create a clean energy society and considers Toyota’s hydrogen technologies will be very important. I have learned the vast majority of technologies of Toyota MIRAI comes from their development of hybrid car models. So, hybrid technologies will advance hydrogen technology and help energy transition. The future of hydrogen cars in Poland will depends on government subsidies and development of hydrogen stations. Japan has been implementing these measures to promote hydrogen cars. Poland and Japan can compare experiences and go further and faster together.

What kind of cooperation in nuclear supply chain between Poland and Japan could we imagine?

Currently Japanese companies have no plan to engage directly with construction of nuclear power plants in Poland. However, Japan have been operating nuclear power plants with very high safety standards. We have a good number of experts and specialists to operate them and train people. Japanese companies can provide critical components of nuclear plants with the highest technical specifications. There are good Japanese companies working in area of nuclear power operation and safety. I hope their expertise and experience will be well utilized. Japanese companies have a great working relationship with those Americans and French companies interested in Polish nuclear program.

What are the opportunities of clean coal technologies? We have this discussion in EU if we should use only the green hydrogen or all the technologies on the table like yours.

I am looking forward to have a very good conversation with Polish friends about this subject. We have been watching the discussion at EU very closely.  I know there are people who strongly believe in renewables, green hydrogen and nothing else.  But Japanese tend to be pragmatists and realists. We respect step by step approach. I believe technology will be a key for climate neutrality. Necessity is indeed a mother of invention and that Japanese technologies can facilitate smooth energy transition in Poland.

Can we say that Poland and Japan shared view of inclusive energy policy, a view that all the technologies need to be taken into account, not only the final solutions, if they help to reach the goal of climate neutrality?

We really have to be pragmatic and realistic to keep the pace of the transition process. Achieving energy transition is a huge challenge when it comes to political and social costs. Polish government is committed to energy transition goal. If its energy transition will make progress smoothly and steadily, it must be taken very positively by the international community.  The world would look at Poland as a success model on how to manage of this difficult process. Japan and EU leaders agreed on establishment of the Green Alliance in such sectors as energy transition, environmental protection at the end of last May. Japan will continue to work together with EU. Energy transition in Poland will have a very important impact on EU’s efforts, not only when it comes to budget, but many regulations and connectivity. Poland is a strategic manufacturing and logistical hub in Europe and that’s why 300 plus Japanese firms came here and have been operating over the years.  Japan is getting more interested in engaging with the discussion of Three Seas Initiative. Improved connectivity between North and South through Poland would surely bring value-added to Poland as a business and investment destination. Japan will continue to cooperate with Poland and EU for a successful COP26 meeting.

How do you perceive Chinese and Russian activity in European energy sector from the point of view of security which is a shared priority of Polish and Japanese energy strategies?

China and Russia have been expanding and exporting abroad their nuclear technologies, but we need to be very cautious when it comes to safety and technologies.  If a serious incident happens in China, Japan would be impacted directly and immediately. Japan has learned a painful lesson from the Fukushima experience and enhanced greatly its nuclear safety. More safety and security often means much more costs in the short term but when it comes to nuclear energy it is not only about the economic costs but also a matter of huge risks of a catastrophe. I hope our friends in Europe will remain very careful and prudent. We are increasingly concerned about cyber and terrorist threats related to nuclear power plants. We need to take into account all risks comprehensively and very carefully  because nuclear power plants are critical national security infrastructure lasting more than thirty years.  Those risks would be much lower if nuclear power plants would be developed by like-minded countries.

Do you think that nuclear energy in general is safe then?

It is true that we had a serious discussion on nuclear energy in Japan after Fukushima incident. Safety is our top priority.  Japanese nuclear safety standard was drastically strengthened. Japan’s policy on nuclear energy is that we need it as a clean baseload energy source, and should maintain the current level of share (20-22%) in the future energy mix. New technological innovation and development might bring something revolutionary to the table, but it has not happened yet. Renewable energy is really important but we cannot solely depend on solar and wind power. We need secure stable supply of energy and electricity to maintain industrial production and people’s life. We need to work really hard to develop further technologies to bring more efficiency, allow energy storage and remove losses. Everything needs to be done in systematic, not in patchwork manner. Poland has a great potential and there will be big business opportunities in energy sector.  Japanese companies will continue to pay very close attention to Poland’s energy transition. I trust that Polish government and people will make sensible decision. I would like to repeat.  I do hope that Poland will play a very positive and constructive role in this significant endeavor of energy transition. If Japanese technology and companies can contribute to this end, that will be my greatest honor and pleasure as Ambassador of Japan. I am looking forward to work together with Polish friends for fruitful cooperation and collaboration to be continued over the next decades.

Thank you for the interview.