In negotiations to revise bills on the new nuclear power regulations, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito incorporated a provision for re-examination into a clause to decommission nuclear reactors after 40 years of service.
The “decommission after 40 years” plan is a minimum standard for reducing the number of nuclear reactors. We find the agreement by the ruling and opposition parties to make leeway for extending the operation of old nuclear reactors completely unacceptable.
The LDP demanded the inclusion of the provision for re-examination. While the clause for decommissioning nuclear reactors after 40 years remains, a supplementary clause spells out that a nuclear power regulatory commission to be inaugurated as early as in September will “promptly” review the 40-year rule.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has yet to present a concrete vision on how to make Japan a country that does not depend on nuclear power. Under such circumstances, the only clear factor is the 40-year rule.
If nuclear reactors are shut down after 40 years, as long as no new ones are built, the ratio of nuclear power generation will be reduced to 15 percent in 2030 and zero in 2050. The reduction process is extremely gradual.
Some lawmakers reportedly pointed out that the 40-year rule has no scientific basis. But no matter what the equipment, the older it gets, the higher the risk of breakdown. Setting a lifespan for nuclear reactors is a policy based on the public will to thoroughly eliminate seeds of trouble and never to repeat accidents similar to last year’s disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Its nature is different from purely technical safety regulations.
The negotiations for revisions were not completely fruitless. They gave strong independence to the planned regulatory organization. After five years of its inauguration, all officials of the nuclear regulatory agency that will serve as the commission’s secretariat will be banned from returning to the government offices to which they formerly belonged.
However, if the most important part of the proposed legislation is rendered toothless, the reasons for cutting off the new organization from government offices that have been promoting nuclear power and giving it stronger independence could fall apart, even though they form the basis of the legal revision. The new safety regulatory system itself will lose public trust.
We hear some LDP members supported the 40-year rule or proposed to reduce the period of operation to 30 years during intraparty discussions. Despite such views, the fact that the provision for re-examination was recognized shows symbolically that the LDP remains unchanged. Its attitude is more than enough to make voters think that if the LDP returns to power, it intends to promote nuclear power again.
We find the DPJ depressing for readily accepting the LDP’s proposed revision. The same thing can be said of Noda’s news conference on restarting reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. With such attitudes, the public has no choice but to think the government is trying to stick to nuclear power generation.
The bills are expected to be passed during the current Diet session. While the re-examination of the 40-year rule will be left to the new regulatory commission, the appointment of the five members comprising it requires Diet approval. Will it become an organization that regulates nuclear power from the standpoint of protecting the people? The will of politicians is put to the test.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 15
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