Editorial: Abandonment of nuclear power

Difficult, but let’s see it through

The government has decided on a new energy strategy that calls for the abandonment of nuclear power by the 2030s. Thinking of the days when the nation was committed to the promotion of nuclear power, this is truly a breakthrough.

There will inevitably be an impact on people’s way of life and on industry. But considering that there is no end in sight to the cleanup at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, it is essential that the entire nation work toward a society without nuclear power.

Most people in Japan support the abandonment of nuclear power. The new energy strategy is also of great significance in the sense that it reflects public sentiment in this respect. The path to denuclearization is expected to be long and difficult, but in order to realize this goal we have no choice but to forge ahead without wavering.

The new strategy’s main points are laid out in three principles that limit the operation of all nuclear power plants to 40 years, allow idled plants to be restarted only after their safety has been confirmed, and ban the construction of new nuclear power plants or the expansion of existing ones.

In the Chugoku Region, construction of the nuclear power plant in Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture is likely to be halted. Work on the main plant has yet to begin. For years the community has been split among those who supported the project and those who opposed it. In light of last year’s disaster in Fukushima, many residents no doubt anticipated the current situation.

We regard this as a good opportunity to restore unity to the region and to develop the area without relying on nuclear power. The central and prefectural governments must support the community’s effort to become self-sustaining.

If the 40-year rule is applied to the nuclear power plant in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, its No. 1 reactor will have to be shut down in two years, and the No. 2 reactor will reach the end of its lifespan in 17 years. Now is the time to deliberate on a vision for the “post-nuclear-power” community.

The government seems to be of a mind to approve the continuation of work on the No. 3 reactor, which was near completion when construction was halted. But with a goal of abandoning nuclear power by the end of the 2030s, even if the No. 3 reactor were to begin operating now, it would be in operation for less than 30 years. And it does not seem reasonable to expect that an exception would be made to allow the plant to continue in operation longer.

There are other vague points and inconsistencies in the new energy strategy.

We wonder about the appropriateness of allowing so much time to bring about an end to the reliance on nuclear power. The government was initially supposed to discuss the structure of the nation’s energy balance in the year 2030. Pushing the timetable back further is unacceptable.

We are even more concerned about the plan to continue reprocessing spent nuclear fuel for some time. If we are going to abandon nuclear power, naturally there is no need for reprocessing. And continuing to store the surplus plutonium that results from reprocessing will not be acceptable in the eyes of the international community either.

At this point we must clearly abandon the nuclear fuel cycle and begin a concrete debate on direct disposal, by which nuclear waste is buried underground rather than reprocessed.

The business community and others wasted no time in speaking out against the denuclearization policy because of lingering concerns about the ability to provide a stable, low-cost power supply.

If that is the case, we suggest strengthening joint efforts by the government and private sector to promote the use of renewable energy and technological innovation. We would like to see constructive efforts in new growth fields.

In international negotiations to lower the procurement cost of liquefied natural gas for thermal power, there should also be plenty of opportunities for the government to exercise its diplomatic muscle.

The new energy strategy states that the government will “pour all policy resources” into the achievement of its goals. We would first of all like all government agencies to bear this in mind.

Abandoning nuclear power will also require further promoting energy-saving technology while at the same time taking measures to prevent global warming. People will likely be asked to cooperate in efforts to save energy and to assume a greater burden.

Nevertheless, thinking back on last year’s disaster, we have no choice but to steel ourselves for what lies ahead. Let us regard this as an opportunity to take another look at our way of life.

(Originally published on September 16, 2012)