According to Greek mythology, it was Prometheus who gave fire to humans.
The acquisition of fire allowed humankind to develop civilization. Fire derived from fossil fuels further spurred production capacity. In time, humans attained atomic fire, a feat that was also described as "superior energy." Playing with fire, however, has presented humans with a dilemma.
Humans, who achieved a civilized world through Prometheus, are now troubled by atomic fire. The series of articles contemplate the country, its citizens and electric power in light of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The fifth series, “Tug of war over nuclear energy,” depicts what is going on between proponents and opponents of nuclear power generation before the government plans to set a new basic energy policy program this summer.
The first, second, third and fourth series are available at:
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Zero or more than 20%?
What should be the share of nuclear power generation in the nation's overall electricity supply? Zero? Twenty percent? Or perhaps more?
The Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, which advises the minister of economy, trade and industry, was in session on April 11 at the ministry building in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district. The task of this subcommittee was to discuss the policy of the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to wean the nation off nuclear power generation.
But the subcommittee's majority view is that more than 20 percent of Japan's electricity supply should rely on nuclear energy, even as far down the road as in 2030.
The subcommittee consists of 25 members, of whom only about eight favor abandoning nuclear energy.
Is this not odd for a group that is supposed to be discussing ways to steer Japan from nuclear power generation?
Hideyuki Ban, 60, an anti-nuke member, certainly thinks so.
A co-director of the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, a nonprofit organization that provides nuclear information to the public, Ban struggled to keep his anger in check as he presented his argument before the subcommittee.
"To aim to maintain the share of nuclear power generation at more than 20 percent in 2030 contradicts the basic objective of this subcommittee," he said. "The government's policy is to decommission nuclear reactors after they have been in operation for 40 years. If no more new reactors are built and the existing reactors are operated at a 70-percent capacity, the figure in 2030 should be around 12 percent. To get it up to over 20 percent, we'll have to substantially increase our reliance on nuclear power generation. Twenty percent is simply not a realistic figure."
In 2010, the nation's 54 reactors accounted for 26 percent of the total power output. The government's basic plan then was to raise the figure to 45 percent in 2030.
But the plan collapsed with the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Now, what should the government do?
Subcommittee members who are opposed to nuclear power generation include academics and those who represent consumers. They argue that Japan will have zero need for nuclear energy in 2030 if power-saving efforts are stepped up and renewable energy such as solar power and wind power are utilized more extensively.
But this argument is vehemently opposed by pro-nuke members of the subcommittee, who consist mainly of retired government bureaucrats and individuals representing the business community. Many insist on relying on nuclear energy for 20 to 35 percent of the nation's power supply, claiming that not to do so will result in higher electricity charges, which in turn will debilitate the economy.
Masakazu Toyoda, 62, is among the most vocal. A former vice minister for international affairs of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, he is currently chairman of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan.
"Zero nuclear power generation means we can rely only on renewable energy and fossil fuel, which will drag down economic growth," Toyoda asserted.