Prime Minister Naoto Kan suddenly put Japan on the cusp of a new era in power generation, declaring in a news conference July 13 that the nation should build a society not dependent on nuclear power.
The announcement by the embattled, lame-duck prime minister ushered in a historic shift in Japan's energy policy, which has long been promoting nuclear power as a key energy source.
But such a radical policy shift requires clear plans and effective strategies supported by solid scientific, technological and economic grounds.
Kan offered no such details, making it difficult for many Japanese to support his bold policy initiative.
Japan embarked on nuclear power generation in 1954, less than 10 years after the end of World War II.
Many researchers involved in the development of Japanese nuclear power technology in its early stage said nuclear power was a prerequisite for Japan's reconstruction from the devastation wrought by the war.
Indeed, atomic energy supported Japan's postwar "economic miracle," at least to some extent.
But the disastrous accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March has cast serious doubt over continued dependence on nuclear power generation. I myself entertain disturbing doubts about the safety of nuclear power plants.
Four months since the nuclear crisis started, it is still unclear when the situation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will be brought under control.
We also don't know for sure how long it will take to decommission the damaged reactors and dispose of the radioactive waste.
Dealing with the nuclear accident has proved to be an extremely difficult task, even for Japan, a "science and technology powerhouse."
In response to the Fukushima disaster, Germany recently decided to phase out all of its nuclear power plants over the next 11 years, reviving its previous policy of pursuing a nuclear-free future.
Germany has been developing a road map toward that future through years of national debate. Experts, representatives of the power industry and citizens have been discussing the issue from scientific, technological and economic viewpoints.
Globally, the use of renewable energy sources is growing rapidly. Several years from now, the total capacity of wind power generation facilities is expected to surpass that of nuclear power plants.
To reduce its dependence on nuclear power, Japan needs to expand its use of renewable energy sources.
If the government is serious about phasing out nuclear power plants, it should provide a specific and convincing case for how this nation can realize a future powered by renewable energy.
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