Entering the latter half of the 12-day official campaign for the Dec. 16 Lower House election, political parties continue to advocate a review of the nation’s nuclear power policy.
But are their arguments sufficient to serve as criteria for voters to choose parties?
Unfortunately, we must say that their plans so far are not enough.
And the one political party showing the most ambiguous stance is the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
As a party that has promoted nuclear power, it is unclear how the LDP will review the nuclear policy and what it is reflecting on. The LDP only says, “We will establish a sustainable combination of electricity sources within 10 years.” That stance is irresponsible.
We also have requests to other parties, including the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, that are advocating a policy of making Japan a nuclear-free country.
Many are competing over how quickly they will achieve that goal. But they haven’t explained how they will tackle the largest challenge: closing down the nuclear power plants.
Large-scale blackouts must be avoided. If nuclear power operations are phased out, electric power companies will have to shoulder additional fuel costs for thermal power generation. If these extra costs continue to have an adverse financial effect on the power companies, they could face difficulties generating a stable electricity supply.
However, if the utilities sharply increase electricity charges to prevent such a situation from unfolding, the hike could hurt the lives of the people and the economic activities of companies. It will be also necessary to give consideration to environmental issues and local governments that host nuclear power plants.
How will the political parties that advocate an immediate suspension of nuclear plant operations overcome such drastic changes? They should show workable road maps to voters.
The Tomorrow Party of Japan has revealed a package of policies, but it is unclear if the party would allow the restarts of some idled nuclear reactors for electricity supply before all nuclear power plants are closed down.
The DPJ said it “will restart operations of nuclear reactors that were recognized by the Nuclear Regulation Authority as safe.” The party also said it “will decommission nuclear reactors after they have been in operation for 40 years.” Under those conditions, however, it will impossible to achieve the party’s goal of abolishing all nuclear reactors by the end of the 2030s. The DPJ should give a detailed explanation of its plans.
Political parties have also been ambiguous on how they will deal with spent nuclear fuel.
If the number of nuclear power plants is reduced, the program to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and recycle it for use in those plants will become unnecessary. If the program is maintained, surplus plutonium will be produced, creating a potential international problem from the viewpoint of nuclear nonproliferation. The only answer is to stop the fuel recycling program.
If the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel is halted, however, the fuel will become “dangerous garbage.” Aomori Prefecture, which has accepted related facilities and spent nuclear fuel on the condition that it will be reprocessed for the recycling program, has indicated it will ask power companies to collect the spent nuclear fuel from the prefecture if the program is stopped.
If such a situation actually occurs, will electric power companies bring the spent nuclear fuel to the compounds of their nuclear plants for storage? Or will they take other measures? The government has a responsibility to show a clear stance on this issue. It should reveal its ideas, including those on management and disposal methods of the plutonium produced so far.
Time is limited before the election, but the parties should upgrade the contents of their nuclear power policies to make them clearer to voters.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 9
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