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New energy strategy draws criticism from all sides

September 14, 2012



No-nuke plan official, quick to draw flak

Policy called poll ploy to save DPJ, hit by fuel cycle foes, Keidanren





Staff Writers

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet on Friday officially adopted a new long-term energy strategy that calls for elimination of nuclear power dependency by the end of the 2030s, but the new goal quickly came under fire from experts, antinuclear activists and lobbying groups.


Critics said the new energy vision lacks critical details of how to achieve the target and will still maintain the existing nuclear fuel recycling program, which they say is a major contradiction with the zero-nuclear goal.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government is advocating the zero-nuclear policy only because it is desperate to curry favor with voters ahead of the next Lower House election, in which the party is now expected to suffer a crushing defeat, they said.

Polls conducted by major media companies have indicated a majority of the public wants to end reliance on nuclear energy sometime in the future.

"I think the DPJ and the government just wanted to set a 'zero' goal because a general election is coming up," said Takeo Kikkawa, a professor at Hitotsubashi University and an energy policy expert.

"The decision to approve this new energy strategy is premature," said Kikkawa, who has taken part in a panel under the industry ministry to discuss the long-term energy strategy.

The government also indicated the zero-nuclear policy could be revised, depending on such factors as progress in the development of renewable energy and public opinion.

The new energy vision doesn't discuss crucial details in abolishing nuclear power, including likely electricity rate hikes following the termination of reactors, how to increase renewable energy and how to win the consent of local governments that host nuclear facilities.

The new energy vision states the government will maintain the existing program to recycle uranium and plutonium fuels after it was argued that the recycling program is needed to keep consuming plutonium for peaceful purposes and prevent proliferation of nuclear materials.

Consideration was also given to the prefectures still eager to maintain facilities related to the recycling, the government said.

Keeping the recycling program in place "is proof that the current government is not serious about phasing out nuclear power," argued antinuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith of the Kyoto-based group Green Action.

Kikkawa said if the government wants to really end nuclear energy, it needs to be more concrete about how to deal with the expected challenges, including how to get local governments, such as Fukui and Aomori prefectures, to give up atomic facilities that have been long lucrative cash sources.

Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the powerful Keidanren business association, said Thursday he called Noda and told him that the zero scenario is unacceptable because the resulting higher electricity fees will hurt businesses and the economy.

"The ruling parties should not be swayed by elections. They should think about the future of this country," he said.

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