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Public support of phasing-out essential

Editorial: Public must back Japan's goal of ending nuclear power in 2030s



The government has officially set a target of ending Japan's reliance on nuclear power plants by the 2030s. Both the government and members of the general public must be firmly determined to achieve this goal.

The goal is part of the government's new energy and environmental strategy, released on Sept. 14. It is of great significance that the government has reversed its atomic power promotion policy in the wake of the outbreak of crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

Still, specific measures incorporated in the strategy to overcome various challenges in achieving zero nuclear power are still half-baked. The government needs to draw up a clear road map toward the achievement of the goal so that it will not end up being just a slogan to attract voters for the next general election, set to be held within a year.

The new strategy calls for the early realization of a society not dependent on nuclear plants for power, and establishes three basic principles: strictly enforcing the regulations under which nuclear reactors must be decommissioned after 40 years in service; allowing the reactivation of idled reactors only after their absolute safety is confirmed; and refraining from setting up new reactors. It calls for the injection of all policy resources to ensure that all nuclear power stations will be shut down by the 2030s.

The adoption of the new strategy should be highly appreciated, as the government has settled the dispute over whether nuclear power should be eliminated or promoted, an issue that split public opinion. The decision was based on thorough national debate. Every member of the public must now show determination in upholding this decision and achieving the goal, taking on responsibility for Japan's future.

To that end, the government must minimize any hardship that the policy change lays on the public and present specific measures to achieve the goal in an effort to win understanding from society.

However, the new strategy delays compilation of specific measures to achieve the zero-nuclear power goal, which is problematic. Further problems are highlighted by the government's decision to continue the nuclear fuel cycle project, in which spent nuclear fuel is processed, and plutonium is extracted from the radioactive waste and used for fast-breeder reactors.

Japan already possesses a massive amount of plutonium -- enough to produce approximately 4,000 atomic bombs. One cannot help but wonder what Japan would do if it stockpiled plutonium further despite its goal of getting rid of nuclear power by the 2030s. The decision to continue the nuclear fuel cycle project was made to show consideration to Aomori Prefecture, which stores a huge volume of spent nuclear fuel as an interim measure, as well as to the United States, France and Britain, which are involved in Japan's nuclear fuel cycle project.

Tokyo should take the opportunity to review the fuel cycle project at an early date, show its determination to solve problems involving the final disposal of radioactive waste, and win understanding from Aomori Prefecture and other relevant parties.

The government should speed up its efforts to show how it will inject policy resources to achieve a zero nuclear power society.

The promotion of renewable energy and stepped-up efforts to save electric power and other forms of energy are indispensable in ending Japan's dependence on nuclear power. We urge the government to quickly carry out regulatory reform and work out measures to help develop technology toward that end.

If electric power charges increase sharply, it will deal a serious blow to Japan's economy. To trim a rise in electricity bills, it is essential to introduce a market mechanism into the electric power industry. The government intends to draft a plan to reform the electric power supply system, such as full liberalization of electric power retailing and the proposed separation of electric power generation and transmission. The government should work out a system to promote competition in the industry that will not destabilize electric power supply, learning from overseas examples.

Needless to say, the goal of a society that does not depend on nuclear power could end up a pie in the sky without understanding and cooperation from the public. The government is obligated to present convincing measures to achieve the goal of ending Japan's reliance on nuclear power for present and future society.

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