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Public opinion more and more in favour of "zero percent" option

August 2, 2012
70 percent of citizens willing to attend policy hearings support zero-percent nuclear option



About 70 percent of Japanese citizens who wanted to attend government-sponsored hearings aimed at sampling public opinion on the country's future energy mix voiced support for an option to cut the country's dependence on nuclear power to zero by 2030.

Nevertheless, there are still many officials within the government who are cautious about breaking dependence on nuclear energy completely because they are concerned about the impact of power shortages and soaring utility rates on business activities and people's livelihoods. Therefore, it is hard to predict whether and how "public opinion" expressed at such policy hearings and elsewhere will be reflected in the government's policy decision.

The government has held policy hearings at 11 locations across the country since mid-July to sample public opinion on three options it set for nuclear energy's share of total power generation in 2030 -- zero percent, 15 percent, or 20-25 percent.

When the Mainichi Shimbun asked those people who wanted to attend public hearings at eight venues which option they would express their support for, 70 percent of them picked the "zero percent" option, followed by 11 percent for the "15 percent" option, and 17 percent for the "20-25 percent" option. Most of the citizens who voiced support for the zero percent option at the hearings expressed concerns about the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. As to the other two options, many of the supporters expressed their concern about power shortages and skyrocketing electricity rates.

There was confusion over the handling of the hearings. Two senior officials of power companies expressed their support for nuclear power generation at hearings in Sendai and Nagoya, respectively, sparking bitter criticism of the credibility of the forums. Then, the government hastily decided to remove people linked to the power industry from the lists of speakers at such hearings. With the exception of the hearing held in Fukushima, the same number of speakers had been set for each option, but in the face of lingering criticism, the government decided to allocate a larger number of speakers for the "zero percent" option than the other two options at the fourth hearing and thereafter.

There are only two hearings left -- one in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, and the other in Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Aug. 4. Furthermore, the government is to conduct a telephone poll of randomly-selected citizens, followed by a deliberative opinion survey with some of the respondents to the telephone poll participating on Aug. 4 and 5 to deepen discussions on the issue. In addition, the Cabinet Office will use its website to collect "public comments" until Aug. 12.

In light of the "national debates," the government will start to map out the country's first energy policy since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Out of consideration for the impact on domestic employment and the economy, the government has deemed the "15 percent" option as the most likely choice, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the prevailing opinion in favor of the "zero percent" nuclear option. Therefore, the government will be hard pressed to make a convincing decision.


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