The people have spoken, and what close to 70 percent of participants have indicated in a series of public hearings on the nation's energy policy is that Japan should be free of nuclear power by 2030.
That puts the central government in a bind as it runs contrary to the desires of the business sector, which wants nuclear power maintained in the nation's energy policy to ensure a stable electricity supply.
The series of 11 public hearings around Japan began on July 14 in Saitama and ended on Aug. 4 with separate sessions in Takamatsu on Shikoku and Fukuoka on Kyushu.
The central government presented three options for the ratio of electricity to be generated by nuclear energy in 2030--0 percent, 15 percent or between 20 and 25 percent. Participants at the public hearings who wished to give their opinion were first asked to choose from one of the options before a selection was made of those who would be allowed to speak.
At the Aug. 1 session held in Fukushima city, participants were selected without requiring them to state which option they preferred. The crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is located in the same prefecture, so the overwhelming majority of speakers urged a quick end to dependence on nuclear energy.
Of the 1,447 individuals who wanted to give their opinions at the 10 other sessions, 68 percent supported the 0-percent option, while 11 percent chose the 15-percent option and 16 percent favored the option for between 20 and 25 percent. Five percent of participants gave a response other than the three options.
Of the 30 individuals who spoke up at the Fukushima public hearing, 28 said they favored the 0-percent option.
At the Aug. 4 session in Fukuoka, a homemaker from Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, who supported the 0-percent option, said, "There are people living with the fear that a nuclear accident will occur."
Satsumasendai is where the Sendai nuclear power plant operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. is located.
A second-year senior high school student living in Fukuoka expressed support for the 15-percent option and said, "It will be important to not use up all fossil fuels, but to leave some for future generations."
At the Takamatsu public hearing, a mother with one child living in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, called for shutting down all nuclear plants immediately. "Some people say the industrial sector would be hurt if nuclear plants are shut down, but is that really true?" she said. "If an accident should occur, no one would be concerned about the industrial sector."
A man from Tokushima supported the option of between 20 and 25 percent.
"If electricity rates should go up, major companies would move their plants overseas and there would be a decrease in jobs," he said.
The central government is also incorporating deliberative opinion polls for the first time. In a telephone survey conducted in July on energy policy, responses were received from 6,849 people around Japan. Of that number, 286 individuals who said they would be willing to take part in deliberations met in Tokyo on Aug. 4 to discuss the issue. A similar session was held on Aug. 5. The objective of the exercise is to measure changes in the opinions of the participants as a result of taking part in the deliberations.
The central government plans to decide on a new energy policy, including which option to seek for 2030, by the end of August. However, the decision could be delayed due to the large gap in opinion between the public and the business sector.
(This article was written by Toru Nakagawa and Junki Watanabe.)
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