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Stop relying on nuclear power

June 13, 2012

Editorial: Japan must stick to greenhouse gas reduction bill without relying on nuclear plants




As the Energy and Environment Council prepares to map out an innovative energy and environmental protection strategy this summer, Japan must stick to its long-term goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 -- without relying on nuclear power.

The Central Environment Council, an advisory panel to the Environment Ministry, has worked out multiple scenarios that would re-evaluate Tokyo's pledge to the international community to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

If Japan were to completely get rid of its nuclear plants by 2030, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only 11 percent at most by 2020, even if renewable energy were introduced on the greatest possible scale. In comparison, if all reactors were decommissioned 40 years after the start of their operational life in strict accordance with government policy, the emission of gases responsible for global warming could be slashed by no more than 15 percent.

Japan cannot sidestep a review of its short-term target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as the country is trying to rely less on atomic power in the wake of the accident at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Still, the importance of preventing global warming remains unchanged. Japan is required to fulfill its responsibility as a developed country to achieve its long-term goal of an 80 percent cut by 2050.

Needless to say, it is not easy to achieve this long-term goal. But with technological innovation, Japan can promote renewable energy and develop energy-saving technology if it works out a strategic and ambitious vision for future energy to overcome restrictions caused by the slash in its reliance on nuclear plants.

Following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Germany, which is particularly enthusiastic about promoting renewable energy, shut down seven aging nuclear reactors and decided to suspend operations at all of its nuclear plants by 2022. Nevertheless, it has not changed its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

Japan's fiscal 2012 white paper on the environment calls for the introduction of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, to regions devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami to help rebuild these areas. The report estimates that introducing a mere 1 percent of the renewable energy that Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures are capable of introducing would benefit these regions economically to the tune of over 8 billion yen.

In July, the government is due to introduce a system under which electric power companies would buy electric power generated by households at fixed prices. The anti-global warming tax, which will be imposed on fossil fuel depending on the amount of CO2 emissions, is set to be introduced in October. The government must ensure that these measures help promote the introduction of renewable energy and environment-friendly devices.

It was agreed at the 17th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in South Africa at the end of last year to introduce a new framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2020. Negotiations have begun on a framework in which all countries, including the United States and China, can participate.

As part of the new framework, Japan has proposed to introduce a bilateral offset credit mechanism, in which the amount of greenhouse gas emissions reduced through its exports of energy-saving devices and technology would be recognized as part of its own reductions. Such a proposal can win support from the international community only if Japan shows to the world that it is seriously working to prevent global warming, even after the major earthquake disaster.

The draft of a global warming countermeasures basic law, which will provide the legal basis for Japan's numerical target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was approved at a Cabinet meeting two years ago. Still, deliberations on the bill have been stalled because of the so-called "twisted" Diet, in which opposition parties control the House of Councillors while the ruling coalition has an overwhelming majority in the more powerful House of Representatives. The legislative branch is strongly urged to thoroughly discuss the bill with the details of the innovative energy and environmental protection strategy fully in mind.

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