Before entering politics, I was involved in oil-related businesses at a trading company. Back then, the energy conditions in Japan were even more liable to be affected by political developments in oil-producing countries in the Middle East.
My professional experiences during this period brought home to me the fact that Japan had no choice but to diversify its energy sources if it wanted to pursue continuous economic growth. Under these circumstances, nuclear energy was a compelling choice for Japan to take.
Ideally, a nation's all-energy needs are fulfilled with risk-free energy sources that don't have any environmental impact. Unfortunately, however, that's not achievable with the current levels of science and technology.
While serving as mayor of Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture, I took a variety of measures to promote photovoltaic power generation, including the introduction of the city's own subsidy program.
Currently, a huge photovoltaic power plant is under construction in Matsuyama. The plant will be composed of myriad solar panels laid side by side covering nearly 70,000 square meters of land, but its expected output capacity is just 4.3 megawatts, far smaller than the average capacity of a standard nuclear reactor--about 1 gigawatt.
At the moment, therefore, sunlight should not be regarded as a major alternative energy source that can immediately replace nuclear power.
I'm not opposed to the pursuit of a long-term goal of weaning Japan completely from dependence on atomic energy. For the present, however, efforts to deal with problems posed by nuclear power should be tethered firmly to reality.
As a politician, I have kept warning that nuclear power comes with risks. So I am convinced that we have to make the best use of human wisdom and the power of science to control the risks of atomic power.
The disastrous accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should remind us of the risks involved in nuclear power generation. But we should remain calm in responding to the nuclear crisis.
The crippled Fukushima plant is facing the Pacific and located close to the boundaries of tectonic plates. In contrast, the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, is located far from the boundaries of plates and along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea.
It can, therefore, be assumed that there is an extremely low probability of the Ikata plant being hit by a massive tsunami like the one that struck the Fukushima plant. Needless to say, there is the risk that the Ikata plant will be struck by a major earthquake.
It is important to recognize the different risk factors for individual nuclear power plants in evaluating their safety.
The No. 3 reactor at the Ikata plant uses mixed oxide fuel, or MOX fuel, a mixture of plutonium and uranium. Plutonium is undoubtedly a highly toxic substance. But ordinary nuclear reactors also produce plutonium, which is used as part of nuclear fuel.
Burning MOX fuel is not particularly dangerous. The safety risk is intrinsic to all nuclear reactors.
It is essential to review the safety standards for nuclear power plants in the light of the nuclear disaster. People involved should make all-out efforts to create an environment that ensures safe operations at nuclear power stations by taking necessary measures based on the lessons learned from the nuclear crisis.
The government has been promoting nuclear power generation as an important component of its energy policy. Now, serious debate should start on the government policy concerning energy sources, including nuclear power.
It is time for Japanese lawmakers to concentrate their energy on trying to solve the problems raised by the Fukushima disaster by tapping collective wisdom.
(This article was compiled from an interview by Hiroyuki Ota.)
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Tokihiro Nakamura is governor of Ehime Prefecture. Born in 1960 in the prefectural capital of Matsuyama, Nakamura was elected to the Ehime prefectural assembly in 1987 after working for Mitsubishi Corp., a major trading company. He then ran successfully for the Lower House in 1993. He served as Matsuyama mayor for three terms from 1999 and was elected Ehime governor in November 2010.
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