14 Mars 2015
March 10, 2015
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on a number of things during her talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but where the two leaders parted company was on the issue of nuclear energy.
Merkel explained her decision to cancel Germany's dependence on nuclear power plants was a direct result of the Fukushima disaster in Japan four years ago.
Abe, on the other hand, was at pains to state that Japan must continue to rely on nuclear energy as a cheap and stable source of power.
At a joint news conference following their March 9 meeting, Abe was asked by a German reporter why Japan was still thinking about resuming operations at nuclear power plants when Germany had decided to move away from nuclear energy by 2022 following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.
"Japan depends on nuclear plants for one-third of its energy source," Abe said. "Suspension of operations at those plants has forced us to depend more on fossil fuels, such as petroleum. We have to fulfill our responsibility of providing an inexpensive and stable supply of energy. We hope to resume operations at nuclear plants that have been judged by the Nuclear Regulation Authority to have passed safety standards."
The Abe administration has made clear its intention to resume operations at nuclear plants. Moves are already under way to resume operations at the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. and the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co.
Those reactors could come back online before the end of 2015.
For her part, Merkel staked out an energy policy that is sharply at odds with the direction Japan is taking.
In a video message released shortly before her arrival, Merkel said she Japan should join Germany in promoting renewable energy sources as a way of moving away from a dependence on nuclear energy.
Trained as a physicist, Merkel gave a detailed explanation of her decision to move away from nuclear energy during a lecture she gave prior to her meeting with Abe.
Saying that the Fukushima nuclear accident had played a major role in affecting the change in her thinking, Merkel said: "One reason is because the accident occurred in a nation like Japan, which has a high level of technology. It clearly showed that even in such a nation, there are risks such accidents can happen. I came to realize there are risks for events which we thought would never happen."
She went on to explain that for many years she had supported the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but added: "The era of the peaceful use of nuclear energy in Germany is ending. Now we have to construct our energy structures based on the decision."
With courage and the political will, Merkel suggested that any nation could follow Germany's example in moving away from a dependence on nuclear energy.
Because of their obvious differences on energy policy, Abe and Merkel did not discuss nuclear energy during their talks, according to Japanese government officials who briefed reporters.
Merkel also toned down her rhetoric at the joint news conference. She did not directly mention nuclear energy, but only said that Germany and Japan "are working closely on energy efficiency and the stable supply of energy."
(This article was written by Toru Tamakawa and Shinya Sugizaki.)