EDITORIAL: Abe’s nuclear energy policy ignores reality

December 26, 2013

The draft of the basic energy plan the government has drawn up as the energy policy outline for the next two decades or so clearly reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s enthusiasm for keeping nuclear power plants running in Japan.

To be sure, the draft contains Abe’s promise to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power as much as possible and references the lessons learned from the accident that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The government has also made sure that the document doesn’t call for building new nuclear power plants or replacing old ones with new ones.

But this policy outline leaves no doubt that the government views nuclear power as an important and basic power source and intends to use it vigorously.

This approach is totally unacceptable.

Toshimitsu Motegi, minister of economy, trade and industry, criticized the Democratic Party of Japan’s policy decision to phase out nuclear power as “an unrealistic strategy.”

Indeed, there were also inconsistencies in the DPJ’s energy policy. But the Abe administration’s vision for the nation’s energy future isn’t any more realistic by any measure, as is revealed by its pledge to “promote steadily” the nuclear fuel recycling program.

The current policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel to extract and use plutonium is effectively unworkable.

Progress has halted at the Monju project to develop fast-breeder reactor technology, the centerpiece of the nuclear fuel recycling program, while the maintenance of the prototype fast-breeder reactor is costing a huge amount of money every year.

The so-called plutonium-thermal (pluthermal) project, which involves processing spent nuclear fuel into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel to be burned in ordinary reactors, doesn’t seem to have a good chance of success, either. Even before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, only four reactors were being used for the pluthermal power generation.

Given the current situation, the government’s plan to burn MOX fuel at 16 to 18 reactors is little better than a pipe dream.

Japan already has a stockpile of 44 tons of plutonium—enough to make thousands of nuclear warheads—not to mention 17,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel.

If the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, starts operation, the amount of plutonium for which there is no realistic use will continue growing. Such a slipshod reprocessing project should not be tolerated from the viewpoint of nuclear nonproliferation as well.

If the government really wants to make a “balanced and responsible plan” for energy supply, it must first of all pull the plug on the nuclear fuel recycling program.

The DPJ government’s move to steer the nation toward a future without nuclear power generation was not based on an arbitrary decision. It was based on the people’s will, carefully assessed and confirmed through nationwide debate in various forms, including such new approaches as so-called deliberative opinion polls. Later polls have also consistently confirmed solid public support for the policy direction.

Abe seems to be well aware of this, as indicated by his promise to reduce Japan’s dependence on atomic energy.

If it is unrealistic to terminate all nuclear power generation immediately, the government should come up with a convincing plan to reduce it in stages.

The Fukushima meltdown thrust into public consciousness the shocking vulnerability of a power supply system that is dependent heavily on nuclear power.

Nuclear power generation, which inevitably produces huge amounts of radioactive waste that requires involvement by the government for disposal, will also be a big obstacle to the envisioned power market reform, which should be based on healthy competition among power suppliers.

This is clearly time for the government to redefine the energy future of the nation from a broad and long-term perspective.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 14

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Citizens opposing nuclear and hydrogen weapons rally for the decommissioning of the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju near the building housing the reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, on Dec. 7. (Akiko Minato)

Citizens opposing nuclear and hydrogen weapons rally for the decommissioning of the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju near the building housing the reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, on Dec. 7. (Akiko Minato)

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  • Citizens opposing nuclear and hydrogen weapons rally for the decommissioning of the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju near the building housing the reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, on Dec. 7. (Akiko Minato)

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