Energy policy needs drastic change on safety-first principle -- Akahata editorial, August 19

The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has published a draft of the "Basic Plan for the Nation's Energy" focusing on maintaining the balance of supply and demand for the next 10 years.

The government plans to collect comments from the public by August 28, hold a deliberative council, and complete the basic plan this fall.

Use of diverse energy sources

Considering Japan's vulnerable structure of energy supply and noting that nearly 90 percent of oil imported by Japan comes from the Middle East, the draft stresses the need to diversify energy sources.

However, the government gives nuclear power priority over all the other energy sources in Japan.

The draft states that the government recognizes nuclear power generation as a major source of energy and will continue to promote it; the government plans to increase its dependence on nuclear power.

On the other hand, the draft mentions that new energy sources, including sunlight, wind power, and biomass, are considered as complementary sources for the time being, while they will play a part as major energy sources in the long term.

Being concerned about the global environment, European countries and the United States have been making efforts to provide themselves with energy by developing renewable energy sources. Ending its dependence on nuclear power will enable Japan to develop and use various energy sources such as small hydro-electric power, solar heat, sunlight, biomass, and hydrogen (fuel cells).

The proposed plan insists that efforts to secure a stable supply of energy should depend on nuclear power generation. However, the recent problem of the possible shortage of electric power supply by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reminds everyone that overdependence on nuclear energy could put the "stable supply of energy" in peril.

If the government is to avoid overdependence on a particular source of energy, as the basic plan states, it should first review its heavy dependence on nuclear energy.

In the passage that touched upon the need for greater efforts to secure nuclear power plant safety, the authors of the draft could not avoid referring to a power company's irregularities that came to light in August last year.

TEPCO's cover-ups of problems serve as a reminder that a regulatory organization that makes sure that nuclear power plants are safe must be independent from the government. Clearly, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is incompetent to detect, investigate, and prevent the cover-ups of accidents. The international Convention on Nuclear Safety provides that an institution for promoting atomic energy should be separated from regulatory institution.

The government formulates the basic plan based on the Basic Law of Energy Policy enacted in June 2002. The Liberal Democratic Party proposed the legislation to protect the interests of the electric power companies promoting nuclear power generation and to push ahead with the nuclear fuel cycle scheme. The LDP came up with the Basic Law to avoid increasing public criticism of the government nuclear policy in the wake of the nuclear criticality accident in Tokaimura in Ibaraki Prefecture in September 1999. The words "nuclear power generation" were missing from the Basic Law in order to mask the real intention. But the parliamentary discussion on the law revealed that the true intention was to promote nuclear energy.

Going against public opinion

In a survey conducted by an organization affiliated with METI, 34 percent of respondents expressed support for the "status quo" and 29 percent called for nuclear power programs to be abandoned. Those respondents who were in favor of "construction of more nuclear power plants" accounted for 25 percent, a clear minority. This shows that the policy of constructing more nuclear power plants is not in the public interest and that the task now is to drastically review the present policy to shift to an environmentally-friendly and safety-first policy. (end)

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