The government recently decided to establish a nuclear safety agency under the Ministry of Environment (MOE). Although its effects remain unclear with the subsequent change in prime ministers, the decision was seen by many as a positive step toward transforming the institutional framework behind Japan's nuclear power policy, which has always been controlled by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
It should be remembered, however, that nuclear power is not the only form of energy used in the nation. Even though the new safety agency would be under the environmental portfolio, other energy-related policies would still be controlled by METI, and therefore handled in the context of industrial promotion. And the government has given no indication that energy policy will be reconsidered in the greater context of the human environment.
Since the March 11 disasters, discourse in Japan has focused on reconstruction and recovery from the disaster. But energy policy in the 21st century must be placed within the broader context of climate change, which will continue to be a major constraint on energy use for the next hundred years or more.
In debates over climate policy in Japan, there is a tendency to focus on the government's declared 25-percent emission reduction target by 2020, which serves a core component of the post-Kyoto Protocol debate in Japan. This may be because business and industry stakeholders are mainly concerned about short-term costs and benefits, and politicians are concerned about the next election. Since the Fukushima disaster, debate has centered on whether the target can be met without nuclear power.
Importantly, Japan has already made a commitment to large and long-term emission reductions of 60 to 80 percent by 2050. This is a commitment to reduce the risks of the catastrophic effects of climate change. Studies on low-carbon scenarios show that both supply-side and demand-side efforts are necessary, and the large-scale introduction of renewable energies is one essential part of the solution.