Pro-nuclear voices dominate energy policy committee

October 18, 2013


Kikuko Tatsumi has found herself increasingly isolated on a government panel discussing the nation’s energy policy.

As one of only two anti-nuclear people on the 15-member subcommittee, Tatsumi’s words were largely brushed aside at a two-and-a-half-hour meeting on Oct. 16.

“The important voices expressed in last year’s nationwide discussions are not being reflected here,” Tatsumi, an adviser to the Nippon Association of Consumer Specialists, said.

Tatsumi was referring to the public hearings and deliberative polling that prompted the Democratic Party of Japan-led government in September last year to adopt a policy of steering the nation away from nuclear energy.

But since the Liberal Democratic Party ousted the DPJ and regained control of government in December 2012, the anti-nuclear voices have waned in talks about energy policy.

The subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy is expected to work out the state’s middle- and long-term energy policies within this year for Cabinet approval.

Based on the views expressed on Oct. 16, it is clear which direction the subcommittee is taking.

“Given the time needed to secure alternative energy sources, it is dangerous to sharply lower the dependence on nuclear power,” said Hajimu Yamana, professor of engineering at Kyoto University.

Masakazu Toyoda, chairman of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, who used to be a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, also expressed his pro-nuclear view.

“I want the government to put in the basic energy plan a message that makes it possible to construct new nuclear reactors to secure a certain scale of nuclear power generation,” he said.

In light of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the DPJ-led government’s policy was to abolish all nuclear reactors by the end of the 2030s and withhold approval of construction of new nuclear reactors.

The DPJ-led administration also set up a committee on basic issues, with about one-third of the members considered anti-nuclear.

However, the LDP-led government nullified the previous administration’s policies. It also changed the basic issues committee into the predominantly pro-nuclear policy subcommittee, which started discussions in March this year.

The subcommittee is headed by Akio Mimura, an adviser to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the government will reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear power generation as much as possible.

But the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has no intention of setting a future ratio of energy sources in the basic energy plan because of the current difficulties in predicting how many idled nuclear reactors can be restarted.

Unless the ratio and a time frame are clarified, however, companies will be unable to decide on how much importance they should place on solar power and other renewables.

Electric power companies will also have difficulties in determining the size of their investment in plant and equipment for each energy source.

In addition, the government faces problems on whether to approve the reconstruction or new construction of reactors and where to store the spent nuclear fuel.

Anti-nuclear sentiment is again rising following a series of mishaps and leaks of radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

A high-ranking industry ministry official doubted the basic energy plan will include government approval of the construction of new reactors under the current circumstances.

A different senior ministry official said, “We want to wait until we can discuss the issue in a calm manner.”

The government could also postpone a decision on how it will address potential safety problems if the existing nuclear reactors are maintained.

(This article was written by Yuriko Suzuki and Mari Fujisaki.)

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An emergency vent equipped with filters is installed on the No. 1 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant on Oct. 2. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

An emergency vent equipped with filters is installed on the No. 1 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant on Oct. 2. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • An emergency vent equipped with filters is installed on the No. 1 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant on Oct. 2. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • An earthquake-resistant emergency building is under construction at the Shimane nuclear power plant in Matsue in September. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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