In 2011, the amount of electricity generated from coal in Japan (including electricity supply directly to industry) was 238.8 TWh, which is 14 times greater than the amount in 1973. Coal fired electricity accounted for 25% of all electricity generated in 2011. Furthermore, after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear power plants accident that year, we witnessed increased use of coal as an alternative to nuclear power plants that have been suspended. (3). In 2017 it was reported that the Japanese government was moving ahead with its plans to build up to 45 new coal fired power stations. The power plants would utilise high energy, low emissions (HELE) technology that use high-quality black coal. Japan is the largest overseas market for Australian coal producers, taking more than a third of all exports. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan started importing more liquefied natural gas (LNG). But coal is cheaper than LPG. (5)
One of these new coal fired power plant would be built by Chiba Power (Chugoku Electric Power, JFE Steel), this would be a 1,070MW plant at JFE steel factory site. Its first EIA screening paper was opened in January, 2017. In February 2018 the EIA has been made public. As soon as this project was unfurled, citizens stood up to protest this plan and established a group for studying coal power plant in Soga (Anti-Coal Soga). People living in the area who have suffered by coal powder dust lifted into the sky from the JFE Steel site, nasty smell, and air pollution, are worrying their living condition gets worse if new additional coal-fired power plant is built in the future.
Friends of the Earth Japan raised voice with local communities in Soga, Chiba against the construction of new coal power plant as a part of the global fight against climate change, joining with over 30 grassroots groups across six continents. (1). 13-14 October 2017 saw a wave of mobilization across the world .This is the local background. The residents of Chiba city in Chiba Prefecture have suffered from serious pollution caused by the smoke from the factories of Kawasaki Steel Corporation (now JFE Steel) since its creation in 1951. In 1972, citizens from a wide range of backgrounds including parents, administrative officials, school teachers and doctors seeking measures to prevent pollution gathered to form the “Organization to Eliminate Pollution from Chiba City”. At the time, 75,000 residents of Chiba city which constitutes to twenty-percent of the population came to an agreement and requested for a “Pollution Prevention Ordinance” but it was dismissed. The residents then filed suit in the hopes of ensuring “blue skies for all children” and the Aozora Trials began in 1975.
In 1988, the Chiba District Court legally recognized the causal relationship between the air pollution by Kawasaki Steel and the health hazards of the residents. As a result, the court ordered the Kawasaki Steel Corporation to pay damages and ruled in favor of the plaintiff. This legal recognition of the causal relationship between the air pollution and the public health hazard encouraged future air pollution trials in other areas.
Residents in Chiba with such previous battles against air pollution are now confronted with the construction of a new coal power plant right in their city, threatening those blue skies once again.The Plan for a New Coal Power Plant. Currently, a construction plan of a new coal power plant facility with a capacity of 1,070,000 kW is underway in Chuo ward of Chiba prefecture (the tentative name is “Soga Coal Power Station”). This power plant will be operated by Chiba Power Company Ltd., a company whose investors include the JFE Steel (formerly Kawasaki Steel) and Chugoku Electric Power Co. As of now, the construction plans are being assessed for environmental impacts based on the Environmental Impact Assessment Laws. Even now (2018), local residents suffer from the air pollution that was thought to be caused by the JFE Steel East Japan Works and as such are showing strong concerns over the prospect of further increase in pollution emissions.
In March 2017, the Environment Minister had shown some doubts about the investment. According to Reuters (2), Minister Koichi Yamamoto, in an opinion statement over the companies’ plan for a 1.07 gigawatt (GW) coal-fired power plant, flagged a business risk and suggested the companies should consider all options including scrapping the plan. “It is important for the companies to recognize severe business risk surrounding coal-fired power stations and think about all possible options including reconsidering the plan if no clear path to cut emissions by 2030 and later is available,” Yamamoto said. The companies plan to build the power station in Chiba aiming to start operation in 2024. Government approval for a power plant project in Japan is based on an examination of its effects on the surrounding environment. The industry ministry handles the process and is authorized to give an approval, although the environment ministry can submit opinions during the assessment that could influence the final decision. The environment ministry had issued objections to five new coal-fired stations in 2015 but was pushed by the industry ministry in 2016 to accept voluntary steps by power companies to curb emissions. But as Japan aims to curb emissions by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 level and 80 percent by 2050, the ministry needs stricter checks, an environment ministry official said. “We’re worried that there are so many plans to build new coal stations which could hinder us from achieving goals,” he said. The new plants, if all built, will raise emissions from coal power plants to 300 million tonnes in 2030, against 267 million in 2014 and Japan’s target of 220 million to 230 million tonnes in 2030, the ministry estimates. The industry minister Hiroshige Seko, however, brushed off that claim saying the opinion is not an objection. “We’ll take it into an account and will make an appropriate action,” he said. (2)
In a related case, in March 2017 the Kiko Network announced (4) the cancellation of a new coal projects in Ichibara, Chiba. "the first case of cancellation of a large scale new coal project". The Kiko Network, whioch is also active in the Soga case, stated: "not only new construction of coal power plants is not acceptable, but also existing coal plants have to be phased out. As other nations move beyond coal, divestment campaigns against the coal industry is spreading and assets are becoming stranded. Having considered the situation, other developers who plan to construct new coal fired power plants should also decide to cancel their plans. Many construction plans are concentrated in Chiba prefecture, near Tokyo area. Kiko Network took the projects in Chiba seriously. Also the movement was getting large as concerned local people established citizen group. The cancellation of this large project (Ichibara) is a great accomplishment for both Kiko Network and the local people. The trend against coal-fired power projects in Japan is clearly changing. We are determined to continue to intensively track the remaining 45 other plans, collaborate with the local people and enlarge the scale of the movement." (4).