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It's up to the people of Japan to decide

July 4, 2012

Editorial: Japan's energy future must be decided by its people



The people of Japan must soon choose one option from among three mid- and long-term energy policy scenarios -- including levels of reliance on nuclear power ranging from zero to 25 percent -- announced recently by the government's Energy and Environment Council. The government is expected to adopt one of them by the end of August based on a national debate, and map out an "innovative energy and environment strategy" based on it.

It will be a crucial choice that will determine the future of Japan. It is necessary to hold calm discussions on the issue and draw a conclusion that will convince every member of the public. To that end, it is indispensable for the government to provide accurate information such that the Japanese people can judge each option on its merits, and to hold discussions that will reflect the popular will.

Under scenarios 1, 2 and 3, the ratio of atomic power to total power consumption in Japan would be lowered to 0 percent, 15 percent and 20-25 percent, respectively, by 2030. Depending on the degree of Japan's dependence on nuclear power, the council estimated how far greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced, how much electricity charges would need to be raised and how much the country's GDP would be impacted.

However, since each estimated figure has a wide range, the scenarios have not clearly shown how much effect a reduction in nuclear power would have on Japan's economy and the livelihoods of consumers, making it difficult for people to choose between the three options. We urge the council to provide more detailed and understandable information by explaining the basis for its calculations, the specific effects of a reduction in nuclear power on various fields, and other clarifications.

The government views Scenario 2 as the most realistic option because it calls for a mid-level reduction in atomic power and meshes with government policy to shut down reactors after 40 years of service. However, as the government is supposed to work out its new energy and environment policy based on national debate, it must not lead public opinion into supporting the scenario it favors.

As part of national debate on Japan's future energy and environment policy, the government will hold its first so-called deliberative poll, ask members of the general public to submit their opinions and hold information sessions on the issue across Japan. In deliberative polls, randomly selected members of the public are surveyed on specific issues and invited to participate in debate sessions. Afterwards, they are queried again to see how their opinions have changed. This method, which makes it possible to tap a wide range of views from those who would not usually voice their opinions, is reportedly effective in getting a detailed view of public sentiment.

In the past, many town meetings on specific policy issues and hearings on nuclear power policy have been criticized as unfair, as their organizers apparently attempted to lead public opinion with staged questions and stacked audiences. The management of the government's deliberative poll on energy and environment policy will be left to the discretion of a third-party panel to be set up shortly. The results of the survey will not win public trust unless the government ensures transparency through appointing appropriate experts to the panel and disclosing in full how the poll will operate.

Questions remain as to the three scenarios themselves. Even if Scenario 2, which calls for a reduction in Japan's reliance on atomic power to 15 percent, is adopted, the ratio could be further reduced if some nuclear plants must be decommissioned for safety reasons before they hit 40 years in operation. None of the scenarios posit an energy and environmental vision for beyond 2030.

Regarding how to deal with spent nuclear fuel, scenarios 2 and 3 leave all possible options open, including full recycling.

This is a good opportunity for members of the general public to proactively choose their nation's policy. They should ask the government to clarify what they do not fully understand, and make a feasible choice that will guarantee Japan's energy security and protect the environment on a long-term basis.

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