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2012年1月23日 (月)

エネルギー政策 電力危機の回避を最優先せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 23, 2012)
Priority must be given to avoiding energy crisis
エネルギー政策 電力危機の回避を最優先せよ(1月22日付・読売社説)

How can we secure the energy that is essential for our daily lives?

This year will be an important one to solve this thorny issue.

The aftereffects of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant continue to be felt.

Power companies whose nuclear reactors are suspended for regular checkups cannot resume their operations even when the checks are completed.

If this situation continues, all of the nation's 54 reactors will be stopped by late April, sending Japan into the emergency situation of losing 30 percent of its electricity supply.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has repeatedly said the government will allow reactors that are confirmed to be safe to resume operation.

In reality, however, there is no prospect of realizing this.

Noda should have a strong sense of crisis and wield his leadership to get these reactors operating again soon.


A survey by the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) showed that if the electricity shortage continues for two to three years, 60 percent of the nation's leading manufacturers will cut back or halt domestic production.

The power shortage will exacerbate the hollowing-out of industry and the decline in jobs.

There is also a limit to how much thermal power generation can make up for the loss of nuclear power, due to the huge economic loss that would result from the additional fuel costs involved, estimated to total more than 3 trillion yen a year across the nation.

To pay its increased fuel costs, TEPCO plans to raise its electricity rates by an average of 17 percent for large-lot users such as factory operators and business offices, starting in April.

The utility is also studying the possibility of raising the charges for general households.

Higher electricity rates will result in higher production costs, which will weaken companies' management vitality and competitiveness.

They will also increase the burden on private households, putting a damper on individual consumption and other domestic demand.

Resuming operation of nuclear reactors that are confirmed to be safe is essential to prevent an economic slowdown triggered by power shortages.

The central government has a responsibility to ensure the safety of reactors and win the understanding of local governments for their resumption.


Concrete measures lacking

A drastic review of the nation's energy policy will be a major task.

Noda has indicated his policy of lowering, over the middle and long term, the nation's dependency on nuclear power.

But when it comes to concrete measures, he remains vague.

The government will compile a new energy strategy this summer.

Yet with too many councils and conferences deliberating the issue in a disorderly way, the discussions are scattered.

We hope Noda displays leadership and presents a clear policy regarding where the nation's electricity should come from in the future.

Expectations are high for such renewable energies as solar power and wind power.

From the viewpoint of domestic self-sufficiency in energy and protecting the environment, more widespread use of such energy is desirable.

Yet excluding hydropower, these sources account for merely 1 percent of total power generation, and currently cost more to produce than other types.

Also the amount of power generated depends on weather conditions.

It will take a long time for such sources to become major power providers.

The creation of goals regarding the optimum composition of the nation's future electric power sources must be done in a realistic manner, taking into account a comprehensive range of requirements, such as stable supply, economic efficiency and safety.

The government has decided abruptly on a policy of having nuclear reactors decommissioned, in principle, after 40 years in operation.

Although the policy includes an exception that would allow reactors to operate for up to 60 years if necessary, the decision on a 40-year lifespan without any prospects for alternative electricity sources must be called irresponsible.

The government should include the option of replacing superannuated reactors with new, safer models.


Nuclear experts may leave

Once the government adopts a policy goal of "reducing to zero" the number of nuclear plants, there will certainly be an exodus overseas of the country's specialists in nuclear energy.

In addition, it will become extremely difficult to develop the next generation of nuclear experts.

As a result, the nation's nuclear technologies would decline, and it would become difficult to ensure the safety of existing plants or decommission them.

Newly industrializing countries such as China have been going ahead with projects to boost the number of their nuclear facilities.

This country should support their aims by keeping Japan's nuclear technology advanced, and exporting safe nuclear plants and providing other countries with reliable know-how about plant operations.

The government has also embarked on reform of the electricity supply system.

A key task in the reform is the separation of electricity generation and transmission--utility companies currently handle the entire process from power generation to transmission.

Discussions are being held about the advisability of the current formula for determining power charges, in which rates are based on utilities' estimates of the cost of power generation plus a certain percentage of profit.

It is reasonable to reduce costs through the introduction of market principles.

Is there no danger, however, of hasty reform efforts destabilizing power supplies?

We should bear in mind such incidents as the large-scale stoppages of electricity that took place frequently in California about a decade ago. The blackouts were said to be due partly to the adverse impact of electricity service reform in California, such as a delay in renewing transmission facilities after the separation of power generation and transmission.

We should draw lessons from these experiences.

Meanwhile, reform of TEPCO's management is urgently needed.

Thanks to the establishment of the Nuclear Damage Compensation Facilitation Corporation partly funded by the government, payments of compensation for victims of the Fukushima nuclear crisis have been secured at least for now.

Costs for such tasks as decommissioning the Fukushima plant, however, are excluded from financial assistance from the compensation corporation.

Although TEPCO plans to secure 2.6 trillion yen over the next 10 years by restructuring its business to cut costs, it is impossible for the utility to pay the colossal expenses of decommissioning and other efforts solely through management reform.


Govt must share burden

The government plans to place TEPCO practically under state control by pouring funds into the utility through the damage compensation body.

The de facto nationalization of TEPCO is considered necessary to prevent its bankruptcy, so it can fulfill the three all-important tasks of settling the nuclear crisis, compensating victims and ensuring stable power supplies.

However, there is the risk that under state control TEPCO could plunge into a vicious circle of expanding losses and the need for ever more financial aid from national coffers.

The planned nationalization of TEPCO must be coupled with studies about the wisdom of creating a new system in which the government would always share the financial burden for such undertakings as plant decommissioning and nuclear decontamination.

Full-dress discussions must be encouraged concerning the validity of the Nuclear Damages Compensation Law, under which power utilities are fully liable for all compensation for a nuclear accident, as well as the pros and cons of running the nuclear power generation business under government protection as part of national policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 22, 2012)
(2012年1月22日01時16分  読売新聞)


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