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September 23, 2012


The endorsement that wasn't



The Noda Cabinet on Wednesday failed to endorse its new energy strategy announced five days before, which said that Japan will mobilize all available policy resources to achieve "zero operation" of nuclear power plants in the 2030s.

People will wonder what was the purpose of the government announcing the new strategy and suspect that it was only designed to get votes for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan in the coming Lower House election. What happened was deceptive.

The Cabinet's failure to endorse the new strategy could result in scrapping the zero-nuclear goal declared by it.

In the Cabinet decision, the new nuclear energy strategy is only treated as reference material. The decision only says that, in reference to the new strategy, the government will hold talks with local governments concerned and the international community, and will carry out future energy and environment policy while getting people's understanding and flexibly and incessantly reviewing and re-examining the strategy.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a TV program on Wednesday night that the goal to end Japan's reliance on nuclear power generation in the 2030s has not been changed. He also said that although four or five reactors will be online in the latter half of the 2030s in accordance with a 40-year limit on the operation of reactors, there is the possibility that these reactors may be decommissioned earlier with the spread use of renewable energy.

But given the Cabinet's failure to endorse the new strategy, his determination for the zero-nuclear goal appears suspect.

On Sept. 15, trade and industry ministry Yukio Edano said three nuclear power plants under construction will not be abandoned, hinting that they will remain online at least into the 2050s.

It is clear that the Noda Cabinet has succumbed to the pressure from local governments hosting nuclear facilities and from the United States, Britain and France, which are helping Japan with its nuclear fuel cycle.

Japan is commissioning the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, the main part of the cycle, to Britain and France. The new strategy also says that Japan will continue to push the nuclear fuel cycle. This contradicts the pursuit of the zero-nuclear policy and means that the government will pour a large amount of public money into projects that will not be needed.

Plutonium will also continue to pile up, causing a nuclear proliferation problem.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said that how to implement the nuclear-zero policy will be entrusted to an advisory panel on energy policy for the trade and industry minister.

One wonders how such a panel can push nuclear-zero policy. Mr. Noda should take concrete actions to dispel suspicion that he is double-dealing and is not serious about ending Japan's reliance on nuclear power generation.


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