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September 19, 2012



Gov't stops short of approving no-nuclear power policy at Cabinet meeting



The government stopped short of approving the innovative energy and environment strategy, which calls for an end to Japan's reliance on nuclear power by the 2030s, at a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 19.

Instead, the Cabinet adopted a statement that Japan will "put the strategy into practice in a flexible manner while constantly verifying and reviewing it" and "hold responsible discussions on the strategy with local governments hosting nuclear plants as well as the international community to win understanding from the public."

The government plans to draft a road map toward expanding the use of renewable energy and specific measures to prevent global warming by the end of this year.

At a news conference on Sept. 19, State Minister for National Policy Motohisa Furukawa emphasized that the government's policy remains unchanged.

"In the past, the Cabinet approved a policy in a similar way. We've never changed the direction of the new strategy," he said.

He made the remarks in an apparent reference to a previous Cabinet's adoption of a statement saying that the government respected the atomic power policy outline instead of endorsing the outline itself.

However, the statement fails to mention the goal of eliminating atomic power stations, representing a back-down in the government stance to pursue a society that does not rely on nuclear power in the wake of the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.

The government made the decision apparently to show consideration to the business world that opposes the total elimination of nuclear power.

Hiromasa Yonekura, head of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), had criticized the government on Sept. 18 for not taking into account the business world's opinions on the issue in working out the innovative energy and environment strategy. "The government didn't listen to the business world's views at all," he said. Yonekura had even threatened to resign as a member of the government's national policy council in protest.

However, the latest decision appears to have convinced him. "I guess the goal (of ridding Japan of all nuclear plants by the 2030s) has been effectively retracted," he said.

At a meeting of the Energy and Environment Council on Sept. 14, the government for the first time incorporated the goal of ending Japan's use of nuclear power by the 2030s in its new energy policy.

However, there are some inconsistencies in the government's policy on nuclear power.

The strategy calls for the continuation of the nuclear fuel cycle project, in which plutonium is extracted from spent nuclear fuel and used for fast-breeder reactors, to show consideration to Aomori Prefecture that hosts a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. This is despite the fact that the project would be unnecessary if Japan were to get rid of all its nuclear plants.

Furthermore, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano said the government will allow the construction of J-Power's Oma Nuclear Power Plant and the No. 3 reactor of Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s Shimane Nuclear Power Plant to continue. However, the new policy clearly states that no new nuclear plants should be built.

If these plants are built, they can be operated until the 2050s in accordance with the government's policy of decommissioning all nuclear reactors after 40 years of operation. This contradicts the goal of shutting down all nuclear power stations by the 2030s.

September 20, 2012
Govt fails to OK zero N-target document

The government decided Wednesday to refrain from approving a document on its new energy strategy, virtually shelving its target to halt operations at all nuclear power plants in the 2030s.

After adopting an innovative energy and environmental strategy last week aimed at reducing its reliance on nuclear energy to zero, the government came in for a barrage of criticism from the United States and municipalities hosting nuclear power plants.

Under the circumstances, the government apparently sidestepped the issue by having the Cabinet only approve a future policy regarding the new energy strategy.

The Cabinet ministers at the meeting agreed to "have responsible discussions with related municipalities and the international community on the matter regarding the new strategy, and flexibly carry out consistent verification and reexamination, while gaining public understanding."

The phrase calling for "zero nuclear power plants operating in the 2030s" was not included in the policy approved at the meeting.

In explaining the shift in position, Motohisa Furukawa, state minister in charge of national policy, said similar decisions had been made in the past.

As examples, Furukawa cited the Japan Atomic Energy Commission's policy outline and the council for regulatory reform's report on various proposals.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura defended the latest move by saying it was not aimed at making the contents of the new strategy obscure.

The policy approved at the meeting is aimed at dealing with energy policies later, he said.

However, Goshi Hosono, state minister for the nuclear crisis, indicated the government avoided approving the document because there is a possibility it may change its policy.

"There are various uncertain factors [in future energy measures]. As the government needs to face the issues firmly, flexibly and humbly, I think the way it was approved today was desirable," Hosono said.

In addition to the zero nuclear target, the new strategy offers three principles including strict adherence to a plan to limit nuclear reactor operations to 40 years.

The other principles call for nuclear power plants to resume operations only after the nuclear regulatory commission confirms their safety, and prohibit the construction of new reactors and the expansion of existing facilities.


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