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Election & nukes

December 7, 2012


Editorial: Parties must present concrete plans on future of nuclear power 



The Dec. 16 House of Representatives election will be the first since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began in March last year. In the interim, Japan has been through two summers of power saving, proving that the country can in fact get by with its nuclear reactors idle. There has certainly been an effect on people's lives and on the economy, but considering the severity of the nuclear disaster, it is impossible to think of building more reactors. The only choice now, in fact, is to reduce nuclear power.

How can Japan rid itself of atomic energy? The parties contesting the upcoming election must show us in concrete terms how they will answer that question. And at the forefront of that question is what they would do about restarting Japan's 48 idle nuclear reactors.

The newly-minted Tomorrow Party of Japan (TPJ)'s plan is a bold one. The TPJ election manifesto promises to stop all nuclear reactors, and that every nuclear plant in Japan would be decommissioned by 2022. The party would also promote the adoption of renewable energy technology as a way to help support local industries and boost employment. We can understand the TPJ's intentions, but widespread adoption of renewable energy will take time and money, and the party has not presented any solid measures addressing this fact.

The TPJ manifesto states that the government would prevent electricity prices from spiking by subsidizing electric companies for the first three years of the program through a bond issue. In the end, however, won't this just dump the cost of the switch away from nuclear energy on the taxpayer? The TPJ must explain to the voters that the party's plan won't be financially painless, and the same goes for the other parties advocating an instant zero-nuclear policy.

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has pledged an end to nuclear power by the 2030s, but has also said it will approve reactor restarts that meet Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) safety standards.

We have called on the government to rank every reactor in Japan on a risk scale, and to decommission the facilities in order from highest-risk to lowest. Even if the government approves restarts, if those approvals are based solely on the judgment of the NRA, progress to a zero-nuclear society will come into question.

In terms of overall energy policy, the government must take responsibility for deciding whether reactor restarts are necessary, and then prioritize restarts of only the very safest plants. Of course, one major precondition for this is the completion of disaster preparedness plans.

The largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which spent its many years in power promoting nuclear energy, has pledged to create "an energy structure with the best mix of power sources within 10 years." Has the party not reflected at all on the Fukushima nuclear disaster? On the safety of reactor restarts, the LDP has taken the same stance as the DPJ, stating it would base any decisions on NRA safety evaluations. The LDP has not, however, shown any intention of ditching nuclear power.

The new Japan Restoration Party (JRP) promised in its manifesto to "create a developed world-leading and nuclear-free energy structure." The party has not, however, stated what it would do on the question of reactor restarts. Moreover, the party says its policy examples, which state existing atomic power generation would "fade out" by the 2030s, is not a campaign promise. The JRP, along with the LDP, appears to be trying to avoid making the issue of whether Japan should end its reliance on atomic power a point of contention in the election campaign.

The end of nuclear power in this country is an issue tied closely to industrial sector reform and a re-evaluation of the Japan-U.S. security guarantee. The political parties must not simply compete over timing or try to prevent the issue from emerging as a point of contention. We voters must watch them carefully to see which party is ready to present specific and convincing energy plans.

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