The government began work March 15 to overhaul Japan's energy policy. A panel discussed the value of alternative power sources but pointedly ignored a pledge by the previous government to pull the plug on nuclear power.
It was the first session in a series that brings together experts on a subcommittee of the economy ministry's Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, which aims by the end of this year to draft a new plan to meet Japan's future energy needs.
"The basic energy plan must clearly show the way toward obtaining a stable supply and lower costs," said Toshimitsu Motegi, minister of economy, trade and industry.
To that, a heckler from the public gallery shouted: "Don't forget to abolish nuclear power."
In 2012, the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration pledged to close all nuclear plants by the end of the 2030s. However, the current administration, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, believes such a move would be wrong.
It aims to abandon the target formally, and, in the short-term, to restart idled nuclear reactors. Both policies could serve as preconditions for the new basic energy plan.
Attitudes toward nuclear power have seesawed in the past couple of years. In June 2010, the DPJ, then a nuclear cheerleader, penciled in boosting atomic power to 50 percent of Japan's total generation by 2030.
Then the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and public clamor for abolition forced the government to make a U-turn, pledging to phase out reactors by the end of the 2030s.
A change of government followed and since the immediate policy is to restart reactors, the subcommittee has no plans to discuss a target percentage for nuclear power in Japan's total energy supply. Nor will it enshrine such a figure in the basic energy plan.
Under the DPJ-led administration, the panel that held such discussions contained a fair number of nuclear skeptics. Broadly speaking, of 25 members of the committee on basic issues, eight were anti-nuclear.
But the Abe administration has tasked the talks to a different team: the general subcommittee, which has only two clearly anti-nuclear members. These are Kazuhiro Ueta, a professor of economics at the graduate school of Kyoto University, and Kikuko Tatsumi, adviser to the Nippon Association of Consumer Specialists.
In the March 15 meeting, all the 15 members were heard discussing their general attitudes toward energy policy. Few of them called for the abolition of nuclear power.
Instead, many insisted that the subcommittee should consider energy from as broad a viewpoint as possible, including questions such as the possibilities of shale gas, a newly popular energy source in the United States, the potential of renewable energy, and the electricity savings.
Then one member broached the subjects the government seems to want to ignore.
"Nuclear power generation should be decreased as much as possible," said Takeo Kikkawa, a professor of business administration at the graduate school of Hitotsubashi University.
Yuko Sakita, a counselor on environmental issues, added: "The government should give itself the opportunity to listen to the people's opinions."
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