22 Août 2012
The government's Energy and Environment Council is considering setting a goal of shutting down all nuclear plants by the early 2030s, government sources said.
The move is in response to growing public calls for the total elimination of atomic power, and is also aimed at spurring technological innovation in renewable energy such as sea-based wind-power generation and solar power generation.
However, there are many challenges to reducing Japan's dependence on atomic power to zero, and the business world would likely voice stiff opposition to the policy.
The government has worked out three scenarios on the ratio of atomic power to Japan's total electric power generation in 2030 -- zero percent, 15 percent and 20-25 percent -- following the outbreak of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.
However, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano said the government will not stick to the 2030 deadline. "We haven't drawn a line on the year 2030," he said in a TV program.
The government had earlier been considering an option to end the use of atomic power in 2040, which Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba revealed during a speech in Fukushima in late July.
Government officials have since been backtracking on the proposal, saying, "a plan that surfaced before an official announcement cannot be used," according to a senior government official.
Behind the move are growing public calls for the total abolition of nuclear power. During public hearings held at 11 locations across the country, about 70 percent of those who applied to attend the gatherings said they support the option to completely eliminate atomic power by 2030. Moreover, demonstrations in front of the Prime Minister's Office in protest against the reactivation of nuclear plants have shown no sign of ending.
Calls for the elimination of nuclear power are also growing even among members of the ruling coalition including Naoto Kan, who was prime minister when the nuclear crisis broke out.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda cannot ignore these calls as he is supposed to dissolve the House of Representatives "sometime soon" for a snap general election and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is scheduled to hold its next presidential election in September.
Noda underscored the need to consider specific challenges to reducing Japan's reliance on atomic power to zero by 2030. "We need to consider challenges to cutting down Japan's dependence on nuclear plants to zero," he told a news conference in Hiroshima on Aug. 6.
Later in the day, the prime minister instructed four Cabinet ministers concerned, including Edano and State Minister for National Policy Motohisa Furukawa to consider challenges to reducing Japan's reliance on atomic power to zero.
Specifically, shutting down of all nuclear plants could result in a sharp rise in electricity charges and cause companies to transfer their factories overseas in the short run.
In the mid- and long-term, energy consumption must be substantially slashed and renewable energy made available at low costs. Moreover, experts must be trained to decommission and dismantle nuclear reactors.
The government is aiming to spur technological innovation by clearly showing the deadline for eliminating nuclear power.
However, there are no prospects that stable renewable energy will be made available at low prices. "Solar power is expensive while wind power is unstable," says a government official.
Under the government's scenario of eliminating nuclear power by 2030, energy consumption would be reduced by 22 percent from 2010 levels, and the ratio of renewable energy including hydraulic power to Japan's total power generation would be raised to 35 percent from 10 percent in 2010. However, this scenario is based on the assumption that the introduction of solar power would be promoted even if it requires households and businesses to shoulder a heavy financial burden with the goal of installing solar panels at 12 million households.
Stiff opposition to the complete elimination of nuclear power persists within the DPJ-led government.
The DPJ intends to coordinate views on Japan's basic energy policy at its newly established energy and environment research panel by early September.
Therefore, the government's compilation of its energy and environment strategy will be delayed from the end-of-August deadline.
Minister seeks zero dependence on nuclear power
National Policy Minister Motohisa Furukawa says he's aiming for zero dependence on nuclear power for Japan when drawing up a new energy policy.
Furukawa said on Tuesday that the government must face up to reality and think hard how to reduce the country's dependence on nuclear power.
He said he will set up a panel of experts on Wednesday to analyze the volumes of public opinion the government has received on the country's future dependence on nuclear power. The government has held public hearings as it reviews its energy policy in the wake of last year's nuclear disaster.
Furukawa added that he shares the view held by many Japanese that the government should create a society without nuclear power plants.