I heard that the word taboo derives from a Polynesian word for “sacred.” The inhabitants of those islands scattered across the Pacific Ocean must have had taboos and shamanistic religious practices that are difficult for us to understand. Today, in Japan, the powerful incantation that advocates of nuclear power generation fear most must be: “We can somehow get by even without nuclear power.”
In about 10 days, the No. 3 reactor at the Tomari nuclear power plant in Hokkaido, which is operated by Hokkaido Electric Power Co., will be shut down for regular maintenance and Japan will be left with no running nuclear power plants.
Before that critical juncture, nine electric power companies across Japan presented their estimates for “a summer without nuclear power.” If Japan is hit by intense heat, the Kansai, Kyushu and Hokkaido electric power companies will not be able to meet peak demand. Even if temperatures are within the normal range, Kansai Electric is expected to experience a severe shortage.
That is why it wants to put the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture back online, but when I think about the power industry’s inclination to just follow its own priorities without taking into account other views and options, I cannot simply support it. Is there no way to get power from other companies and no room for the conservation of energy? I want the government panel looking into the situation to leave no stone unturned.
Industry minister Yukio Edano’s comments keep changing. Even if the final goal is to do away with nuclear power generation, the need for nuclear power plants will be felt stronger than ever if Osaka turns into a sweaty hell this summer because of a power shortage. That will put a damper on the movement to do away with them. Apparently, such thinking is behind his wishy-washy attitude. His mentor, Yoshito Sengoku, put it much more simply, likening the absence of running nuclear reactors to collective suicide.
But safety must not be compared with need. Instead of attaching equal importance to both, the government must secure safety first and then restart nuclear reactors if necessary. This is the right order.
There is no such thing as absolute safety with nuclear power plants. When accidents occur, damage spreads extensively and into the future. This is the lesson of last year’s disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
According to an Asahi Shimbun survey, opponents of restarting plants outnumber supporters in Fukui Prefecture, which hosts the Oi plant, and the Kinki region. I don’t think blackout warnings will drastically change public opinion. On the contrary, I think they will prompt people to work harder to save electricity.
In the aftermath of last year’s irreparable accident, we are learning a great deal.
—The Asahi Shimbun, April 25
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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