Japan has yet to chart a future energy policy although it hit the switch on its last operating nuclear reactor on May 5 following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Discussions within the government lack a clear direction, and opinions appear about equally divided between pro- and anti-nuclear power camps.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is eager to restart at least some reactors in the near future to avoid electricity shortages, although he plans to reduce the nation’s reliance on nuclear power “as much as possible” over the mid to long term.
At the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, 25 members are sharply divided over what the share of nuclear power in Japan’s electricity generation should be in 2030.
The committee, under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, has been discussing the issue since October.
Some members call for doing away with nuclear power altogether as the Fukushima nuclear accident exposed the dangers of atomic power.
“It is the responsibility of our generation to realize a society without nuclear power and hand it down to future generations,” said Hisa Anan, secretary-general of Shodanren, a national consumer organization.
Hiroshi Takahashi, research fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute, said, “Japan, a country prone to strong earthquakes and tsunami, should decommission all nuclear reactors over 20 years or so.”
Other members said nuclear power should provide 20 to 25 percent of all electricity in Japan in 2030, compared with 26 percent in fiscal 2010.
“Japan is committed to peaceful use of atomic power,” Jitsuro Terashima, president of the Japan Research Institute, said. “It has a responsibility to maintain and manage nuclear power plants.”
Shoei Utsuda, chairman of trading house Mitsui & Co., said, “It is essential that nuclear power will supply about 25 percent of all electricity to support Japan’s economic power.”
One member, Kenji Yamaji, director-general of the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, even proposed that nuclear power should account for up to 35 percent of all electricity generation.
To secure the safety of aging nuclear reactors, the government in principle plans to decommission reactors 40 years after they begin operations, which would lower the share of nuclear power to about 15 percent in 2030.
The subcommittee members who advocate phasing out nuclear power argue that proponents of a 20-percent share or more contradict the government policy.
The pro-nuclear members counter that atomic power can continue to play a key role even under the 40-year rule by building new reactors and extending operation periods of existing ones.
Separately from the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, two government panels are reconsidering the role of nuclear power.
The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan is discussing a new nuclear policy outline, while the Central Environment Council, an advisory panel under the Environment Ministry, is drafting new measures to fight global warming.
The Energy and Environment Council, a panel of Cabinet ministers, will analyze energy policy options and compile an energy and environment strategy this summer, which will serve as the basis for discussions at the three panels.
Noda initially planned to restart two reactors at the Oi nuclear plant before the No. 3 reactor at the Tomari nuclear plant, the last reactor online, was shut down on May 5 for routine maintenance. But strong opposition from local governments and the general public forced the government to give up the plan.
In April, Naoto Kan, who experienced the Fukushima nuclear disaster under his watch as prime minister, and other anti-nuclear lawmakers formed a group to prepare a road map for eventually reducing Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy to zero.
Kan has been alarmed by pro-nuclear arguments within the government.
“Caution is required because opinions that flatly contradict a policy (of moving Japan away from nuclear energy) have been presented,” Kan said on his blog.
(This article was written by Toru Nakagawa and Shinichi Sekine.)
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