An industry ministry panel has put forward a range of proposals for the government’s new basic energy plan.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster has prompted the government to set out to develop a new plan for Japan’s energy future, which is expected to include the composition of the nation’s power sources in 2030.
The panel has proposed four blueprints that differ from mainly in the share of nuclear power generation in the total energy supply. The proposed nuclear power policy options range from phasing out to maintaining the current level.
We support the plan designed to terminate the production of electricity with nuclear reactors as early as possible while promoting power saving and the use of renewable energy sources. This plan would expand thermal power generation for the time being to compensate for the reduction in nuclear power generation.
These proposals have been worked out by the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy.
Since it was set up in October last year, the panel has held 25 sessions. Unfortunately, no constructive debate has taken place between proponents of atomic energy and members calling for an end to nuclear power generation, partly because of poor management of the discussions.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has pledged to reduce the nation’s reliance on nuclear power as much as possible.
The panel has dropped the controversial proposal to increase the share of nuclear power to 35 percent, but the option of keeping the share at 20 to 25 percent, close to the current level, is also inappropriate.
The plan to lower the share of atomic energy to 15 percent by 2030 is not clear about the future beyond that point. The share will decline to that level if reactors are decommissioned when they complete 40 years of service, according to the panel.
But the plan doesn’t make clear whether the share will be allowed to fall further down to zero or kept at a certain level.
The panel’s meeting on May 28 ended in an imbroglio over the classification of various ideas to formulate proposals.
The confusion was caused by a forceful attempt to compile differing views and opinions among panel members into a certain number of plans.
The options presented by the panel will be examined and discussed by the government’s Energy and Environment Council. The council will combine the options with revisions to the government’s long-term nuclear power policy outline and measures to combat global warming to thrash out its own proposals.
The Noda administration will then choose one of the proposals through “national debate” this summer and announce a new basic energy policy.
The government needs to sort out problems that would arise in the process of shutting down nuclear power plants, such as how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and respond to the expected increase in the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, and explain them clearly to the public.
It also needs to offer clear answers to questions raised about the tepid proposal to reduce the share of nuclear power to 15 percent.
One of the options presented by the panel is not to set a clear numerical target for reducing nuclear power generation and leave the final decision to the free market for power.
This option is based on the assumption that all costs of nuclear power generation will be made clearly “visible” and borne by electric utilities. The costs include the money needed to strictly observe safety regulations and prepare for possible accidents as well as expenses for obtaining land to build nuclear power plants, which have so far been shouldered by the government.
This is an essential condition even for proposals that would set a numerical target.
There is widespread public distrust and suspicion of the government as a result of the way it has been dealing with issues related to the nuclear power and energy policy.
Now, the government needs to determine the time frame and criteria for shutting down reactors through in-depth debate and give the public detailed and clear explanations about related issues. This process should put the nation firmly on the road to a future without nuclear power.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 29
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