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Gov't cannot ignore its own surveys

August 24, 2012


Editorial: Gov't must respect public's readiness for zero dependence on nuclear power



In exploring a new energy policy, the government has used several different survey methods to feel out the public's take on the ratio of atomic power to Japan's total electric power generation in the year 2030.

Results from public hearings in 11 cities across the country, as well as public comments and deliberative polls, have shown that supporters of "zero dependence" on nuclear power comprise the largest group.

The results don't necessarily accurately reflect the views of the entire Japanese public. Those who attended hearings and submitted public comments wanted to make their opinions known, and although participants eligible for deliberative polls were chosen randomly, those who actually attended the deliberations were there because they wanted to be there. We must keep in mind that the results of these surveys are skewed.

Still, the fact that the government has opened itself to a range of input from the public is worthy of praise. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made an additional step by meeting with anti-nuclear activists on Aug. 22. Let us hope that he takes to heart the public's fervent hope for zero nuclear dependence.

It is now important for the government to gain an in-depth understanding of the public's views by analyzing the reasons behind the opinions, taking into account the characteristics of each survey method.

For example, the purpose of deliberative polls -- as opposed to standard public opinion polls -- is to sound out public opinion through in-depth discussion. They entail tracking shifts in opinions as participants take part in small group discussions and question-and-answer sessions with experts. Through this process, the number of participants supporting "zero dependence" increased, and those for "15-percent dependence" decreased.

The deliberative poll was not without its shortcomings; reference materials for the discussions were wanting, and the experts were ill-prepared. The age brackets and sex of the participants were also skewed. Still, it is significant that through deliberation, the number of "zero dependence" supporters rose.

A 15-percent ratio of nuclear power to Japan's total electric power generation is expected in 2030 if a requirement to decommission reactors after 40 years is instituted for all currently existing nuclear reactors. The government had believed this scheme to be the most promising, but such a policy fails to clarify whether the government is moving toward a future of zero-dependence, or maintaining nuclear power at current levels. The public views such ambiguity with suspicion.

Another fact that emerged from deliberative polling -- and one that the government must take seriously -- is that the guarantee of safety is a higher priority for participants than a stable power supply or the cost.

It is problematic that the government has yet to indicate how it will incorporate the survey results into its policy making process. It must show us what messages it has received from the people, and how it will overcome the obstacles we face in reducing dependence on nuclear power. To take the politically responsible route, the government must set down a clear road map.

The results of deliberative polling are said to indicate that the public is ready to accept higher costs and changes in lifestyles if the government decides on a policy of bringing nuclear dependence down to zero. It is time for the government to show that it, too, is ready.



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