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Editorial: Parties must close gap with reality in talks on nuclear power

  • July 15, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 12:45 p.m.
  • English Press

Any discussion on nuclear power policy should be based on reality.


In their Upper House election campaign platforms, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, say they will allow more restarts of nuclear reactors in line with the government’s Basic Energy Plan.


The plan defines nuclear energy as a mainstay source of power, which it assumes will account for 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s total power supply in fiscal 2030.


Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, decisions have been made to decommission some of the nation’s nuclear reactors; plans are being floated to decommission others. The total number of the reactors concerned is 21.


Achieving the goal of the Basic Energy Plan would require about 30 operating reactors, meaning the activation of almost all remaining nuclear reactors in Japan.


One is tempted to ask if such a plan can be described as realistic.


The power industry has placed topmost priority on restarting nuclear reactors, but only nine reactors have so far been brought back online.


Many reactors are not likely to be reactivated any time soon because of local opposition, the presence of an active fault nearby or for other reasons.


Officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which is seeking to restart reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture, made an argument for itself during a general shareholders’ meeting in June.


“We need to have nuclear reactors up and running, after all,” they said, adding that doing so would allow TEPCO to increase its profits and thereby “fulfill its responsibility for Fukushima.”


TEPCO, however, has apologized for keeping local governments in the dark for three years about insufficient seismic resistance of the Main Anti-Earthquake Building at the Niigata plant, which would serve as a center for response measures in the event of a disaster.


Following a big earthquake in June this year, TEPCO mistakenly sent wrong information to local governments saying that “abnormalities” had occurred at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

Given these circumstances, TEPCO could hardly expect to gain deeper understanding of the host communities.


The construction of anti-terror facilities is falling behind schedule at nuclear plants elsewhere in Japan where reactors have been brought back online.


Beginning next spring, reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co. are expected to be taken offline again in succession.


The argument that nuclear power is cheap is also losing ground. Expenses for safety measures have swollen following the Fukushima disaster, and more than 4 trillion yen ($37 billion) in total has been spent so far to prepare nuclear reactors for their restarts.


The joint public-private efforts to export nuclear power technology to developing markets overseas, given the thin opportunities in Japan, have reached a deadlock in many nations.


The ruling parties should explain specifically how they plan to deal with all of these realities if they insist that Japan should remain reliant on nuclear power.


A final disposal site for high-level radioactive waste is unlikely to be built soon, either. The nuclear fuel recycling program, intended to extract plutonium from spent fuel for reuse, has also practically failed.


Despite all that, there are still plans to activate a reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, to extract plutonium. This shows Japan’s nuclear power policy is laden with many layers of contradictions.


Opposition parties that oppose reactor restarts and are calling for zero nuclear power, such as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, should also face up to the question of feasibility.


Even if a transition to renewable energy sources, such as solar power, is to be pursued, there is still a need to curb the burden on the public to guarantee a certain level of income for renewable energy operators.


Measures should be established to ensure a stable supply of power even when renewables account for the majority of it. Allowances should also be made for the economies of local communities that have long depended on nuclear power.


People living in power consumption areas, to say nothing of residents of communities hosting nuclear plants, should give serious thought to the future of nuclear power in this country.

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