Japan made right decision in returning to nuclear power

opinion March 02, 2014 00:00

By The Yomiuri Shimbun

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For Japan, a resource-poor country, the most realistic approach to securing sufficient energy is to continue using its nuclear power plants.

On Tuesday, the government adopted a draft of its new basic energy policy, which will set the course of the nation’s medium- and long-term energy policy.
After an expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry compiled the preliminary draft in December, the government worked to reflect opinions from the public and others. The government plans to obtain the approval of the Cabinet in March at the earliest after holding talks with the ruling parties.
The focal point of the draft was the commitment of the government to nuclear power. In the preliminary draft, nuclear power plants were described as an “important base power source” that would serve as the foundation of a stable supply of electricity. In the latest draft, the phrase was changed to “important base load power source”. A base load power source refers to a power source that continuously provides a certain amount of electricity by operating around-the-clock, thereby providing a country with a stable energy supply.
It clearly shows the government aims to utilise nuclear power as an important power source, a turnaround from the policy of past Democratic Party of Japan-led administrations, which pledged to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear energy to zero by the 2030s. We believe the government’s draft shows we are headed in the right direction.
The draft also stipulated the government’s policy of reactivating idle nuclear power plants once the Nuclear Regulation Authority has confirmed their safety.
The nation’s dependence on nuclear power should be “reduced as much as possible”, the draft said. At the same time, the government would “carefully consider the scale of the nuclear power plants” it would maintain, suggesting that new nuclear power plants may be built or existing power plants expanded in the future. We believe this is realistic.
A long time has passed since the nation’s 48 nuclear reactors were taken offline. Now, nearly 90 per cent of our electricity generation depends on thermal power plants, resulting in a sharp rise in fuel costs. Problems related to the surge in electricity rates and huge trade deficits are becoming more serious by the day.
To establish an optimal energy mix, the government should seek a good balance from diverse energy sources. It is desirable that thermal power, nuclear power and renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, play complementary roles.
The government has refrained from stipulating a numerical target on its optimal energy mix in the draft. The government should come up with a numerical target as soon as possible.
The draft stresses that the government would accelerate the implementation of measures on distributing renewable energy. However, the current plan of requiring utility companies to buy renewable energy at high prices has a serious side effect, as it puts a heavy financial burden on households and companies. The government should drastically review the system as soon as possible.
Regarding the nation’s nuclear fuel recycling policy, the draft added the word “flexibility” to describe how it would carry out its policy. We are concerned that the wording leaves room for the government to reconsider its recycling policy. The government has been saying that it would steadily promote this policy, and we believe it should stick firmly to it to ensure effective use of uranium resources.
It is no surprise that the draft stipulated the government would take the initiative in resolving the problem of radioactive waste disposal. It is time for the government to set a course in selecting a location for the final disposal site, a decision long overdue.
We are worried about the ruling parties’ response to the nuclear issue. New Komeito, in particular, has pledged to reduce the nation’s dependence on nuclear power to zero as soon as possible. We urge the ruling parties not to be swayed by antinuclear sentiment and make judgments based on Japan’s serious power situation.