Editorial: With the public desiring an end to nuclear energy, concrete steps must now be considered

For the first time, the Japanese government has undertaken a survey of the public on its desire for nuclear energy. Asked the ratio of nuclear energy to be used in the year 2030, among the nation’s total energy production, many of the respondents apparently hope to see nuclear energy phased out completely.

According to the survey results, released on August 22, among the three given scenarios for nuclear energy use in the future--zero percent, 15 percent, and 20-25 percent--the largest percentage of people, 47 percent, support the zero-percent option.

Participants in the survey voiced their opinions after giving consideration to the disadvantages of eliminating nuclear energy. The central government must now take the public’s view seriously.

It is believed that the government attempted to sway participants to favor the 15-percent scenario by presenting provisional calculations which show that electricity rates might double if the nation’s nuclear reactors were no longer generating electricity.

Still, a significant number of people chose zero percent, opting for a safer life over any other consideration after becoming more informed about the risks of nuclear energy.

This public sentiment has grown more apparent on other occasions in which the government has listened to citizens’ voices.

At hearings held in various parts of the country, 70 percent of those offering an opinion came out in favor of the zero-percent option. In another scheme to solicit comments from the public, pursued separately from the hearings, the ratio of people who expressed support for eliminating nuclear energy is believed to be 90 percent.

Still, concerns persist over possible adverse consequences to the nation’s economy. The Japan Federation of Economic Organizations contends that industry would be dealt a major blow and that the employment picture would deteriorate due to anticipated hikes in electricity rates. The federation is calling for a thorough review of the situation.

On the other hand, expanding the use of renewable energy sources and promoting energy conservation would have positive effects on related industries. Also, with smart grids installed widely, a rise in electricity rates could perhaps be curbed.

The government appears to be fluttering about in confusion, unsure how to handle the support for eliminating nuclear energy entirely, which is stronger than they expected. As late as August 6, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed his intention to start considering measures to be taken in the event nuclear energy is phased out in the future.

The government had been planning to issue, this month, its energy policy for the future, which would include the ratio of nuclear energy use. However, considering the current circumstances, a delay in concluding the policy appears inevitable.

The August 22 meeting between Mr. Noda and representatives of citizens’ groups which have staged anti-nuclear demonstrations in front of the prime minister’s official residence every Friday can be viewed as a demonstration of listening to public opinion.

In order to respond to the will of the people, the government must present a path for phasing out the use of nuclear energy by 2030. The plans to effect this shift should be examined in detail.

What steps should be taken to systematically decommision the nation’s nuclear reactors? The nuclear plants that are considered especially dangerous because of active fault lines or risk of tsunami must be decommissioned early on. And we should take into account how long the reactors have been in operation, as well as a regional balance in the energy supply, and accelerate the decommissioning of other reactors as well. Toward this end, due consideration must also be given to the financial side of the decommissioning process.

Meanwhile, increasing the supply of renewable energy to replace nuclear energy is another crucial task. The feed-in tariff alone, which was introduced in July, is not sufficient.

Considering the current situation, shuttering the nation’s nuclear power stations by 2030 will not be easy. But if the government presents a policy of shifting away from the use of nuclear energy and shows its willingness to pursue this course, it can gain the understanding of the people, even if the plan were to take longer to carry out than scheduled.

(Originally published on August 24, 2012)