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Editorial: Gov’t should suspend Russian gas imports and restart nuclear power plants

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused energy prices to skyrocket on global markets, hurting Japan as well. There is a growing movement in the international community to halt energy imports from Russia as part of sanctions on that country and to switch to alternative procurement. That has spurred price increases.


Despite the global situation, it is problematic that the Japanese government and the ruling parties do not feel a stronger sense of urgency.


Although efforts are being made to control petroleum product prices through the coordinated release of oil stockpiles and gasoline subsidies, these are only short-term price measures. Drastic measures for stable energy procurement have not been taken.


It’s time to recognize the current situation as a national crisis


First of all, the government should strictly recognize the current situation as a “national crisis. Then the government and the ruling parties must take the lead in shifting to a contingency energy policy, such as encouraging the early restart of nuclear power plants, to ensure stable procurement of energy resources and a stable supply of electric power.


In the wake of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, the international community has strengthened economic sanctions against Russia. Regarding the energy sector related to Russia, the U.S. and the U.K. have announced the suspension of imports of Russian crude oil and natural gas, and the European Union (EU) aims to reduce imports by 60% by year-end, and a total suspension by the end of 2027.


Japan is also participating in economic sanctions against Russia, but has not taken steps to suspend Russian energy imports. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has only said, “Japan will cooperate with the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations while considering Japan’s national interest.”


This is because if imports of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG), which supply 8% of Japan’s demand, and Russian coal, which also accounts for 13% of domestic demand, are halted, Japan would face procurement difficulties.


However, prioritizing the avoidance of disadvantages to Japan only disrupts the unity of international sanctions against Russia. Germany, which depends on Russian natural gas for more than 50% of its domestic demand, has decided to reduce imports, and the international community is strengthening its sanctions against Russia. If Japan does not keep in step, it could lose the trust of the international community.


While the consequences of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine remain to be seen, it would be a mistake to assume that relations between Russia and the international community will be restored in the near future. Russia’s violation of international law is clear, and avoidance of the use of Russian products will be an item on the international agenda from the perspective of human rights issues. Expecting to continue trade with Russia is too optimistic.


Japan should be prepared for a prolonged global energy crisis. Soaring resource prices will further burden the public with higher bills for electricity, gasoline, and kerosene. Unless the government takes flexible measures, independent energy security cannot be achieved.


Prime Minister Kishida should first make a political decision to stop energy imports from Russia and exercise leadership in conducting aggressive resource diplomacy toward alternative procurement. It is also essential for the government to take supportive measures to encourage Japanese companies to invest in shale gas production, which the U.S. is aiming to increase.


At the same time, the government should take the lead in restarting nuclear power plants to ensure stable energy supplies. Since the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, only 10 of Japan’s 33 nuclear power plants have restarted, including those that restarted only to suspend operations a second time. Of these, five have been shut down for routine inspections or other reasons. The government should accelerate the restart of nuclear power plants.


Don’t be afraid of public opposition


Under the circumstances, it is necessary to consider flexible measures, such as temporarily resuming operations of nuclear power plants that have undergone a safety review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). It is also essential to make the new regulatory standards for nuclear power plants more flexible, such as allowing the construction of safety measures while operating nuclear power plants. Prime Minister Kishida should take the lead in ensuring a stable supply of power,


The Liberal Democratic Party’s Diet members’ caucus for the promotion of a stable supply of power has compiled a resolution calling for the urgent operation of nuclear power plants. In response to soaring oil prices, the caucus urged the government to “take measures to urgently bring nuclear power plants, including those that are shut down, back into operation, while giving priority to ensuring their safety. We hope that the LDP will exercise its political power for the benefit of the people and not leave the matter to the government.


The business community is also starting to call on the government to restart nuclear power plants as soon as possible. In order to encourage the NRA to promptly conduct safety reviews, the Kansai Economic Federation requested a substantial increase in the number of review personnel as well as specific actions to restart operations of nuclear power plants, including activities to promote understanding among local governments where nuclear power plants are located. The business community should convey a greater sense of urgency to the public.


If Prime Minister Kishida, the government, and ruling parties continue to maintain the status quo for fear of a public outcry, Japan’s energy security will face an even greater crisis. The question now is how to make an agile policy that is not bound by conventional ideas and regulations.

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