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"A mere reference material"

September 20, 2012


Editorial: Failure to approve new energy strategy defies calls to scrap nuke power



The Cabinet's decision not to adopt the innovative energy and environment strategy has raised serious doubts about the administration's determination to end Japan's reliance on nuclear power by the 2030s.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stopped short of adopting the strategy that calls for the elimination of nuclear power by the 2030s and instead approved a statement that the government will put the strategy into practice while constantly reviewing it in a flexible manner. In other words, the Noda administration regards the new strategy as mere reference material.

Since the government is not legally bound by the strategy, the policy of ending Japan's dependence on atomic power could be considerably watered down. The Noda administration should be aware of the gravity of the decision to get rid of nuclear plants it had made following national debate, and show its determination to achieve that goal.

A policy can be established as a Cabinet decision only after it is approved at a Cabinet meeting. Successive Cabinets are bound by all policy decisions made at Cabinet meetings unless they are revised. However, the Noda Cabinet's decision not to approve the strategy has raised doubts about whether it is committed to implementing the anti-nuclear move.

When the compilation of the new strategy was in its final stage, the Cabinet appeared to hesitate over its details.

The Noda administration declared that it will pursue a society without nuclear power in response to public opinion calling for the elimination of nuclear plants following the outbreak of the crisis at the tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Still, it chose to continue the nuclear fuel cycle project, in which plutonium is extracted from spent nuclear fuel and is used for fast-breeder reactors, out of consideration for Aomori Prefecture, where a massive amount of such radioactive waste is stored as an interim measure, as well as the United States, Britain and France, which have cooperated in the project.

The government had intended to seek legislation to implement the new strategy, but the plan was deleted in the final stage.

Despite these moves, the government retained its goal of getting rid of all nuclear plants in a reversal of its policy of promoting atomic power.

However, the Cabinet abandoned adopting the new strategy bowing to stiff opposition voiced by local governments hosting nuclear power stations, the business world and the United States.

While the government has watered down its policy of seeking to get rid of nuclear power, moves have emerged that could lead to continued dependence on nuclear power.

Although the strategy confirms that no new nuclear reactors will be built, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano gave the green light to the resumption of construction work on two nuclear reactors, which had been suspended since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. In accordance with the policy of decommissioning nuclear reactors after 40 years in operations, the new reactors can be operated until the 2050s, which is contradictory to the goal of ending Japan's reliance on atomic power by the 2030s.

It is true that numerous challenges, including securing alternative power sources and preventing electricity charges from surging, must be overcome to get rid of all nuclear plants. It is only natural that opposition has been voiced to such a policy because the government has not shown how to overcome these challenges.

These challenges were pointed out during deliberations at the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy that lasted for six months as well as during national debate. Based on these discussions, the Noda Cabinet adopted the no-nuclear power policy.

As such, the government should adopt the new strategy at a Cabinet meeting. It should then work out specific measures to overcome challenges and ask the public for understanding and cooperation.

We urge Prime Minister Noda to clearly explain how to keep consistency between a series of revisions made to the strategy shortly before it was announced and the policy of ending Japan's dependence on nuclear power, and show his determination to achieve such a goal.

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