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2013年1月 9日 (水)

エネルギー戦略 現実的な原発政策を推進せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 9, 2013)
Government must promote realistic nuclear power policy
エネルギー戦略 現実的な原発政策を推進せよ(1月8日付・読売社説)


Revitalizing the Japanese economy will require a stable supply of electricity. This year will be important in that the energy and nuclear power policy, on which the nation's fate rests, needs to be drastically reformulated.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown his intention to review the "Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment" drawn up by the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, which set a target of having zero nuclear reactors operating by the end of the 2030s. Abe also expressed support for allowing the construction of new nuclear plants with enhanced safety features. We think his position on these issues is reasonable.

The government should immediately craft a realistic energy strategy that includes the use of various sources of power generation--including nuclear energy.


Restore stable power supply

A severe accident like the one at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant must never be allowed to happen again. In saying that, if Japan, as a nation with scarce energy resources, hastily changes track and breaks away from nuclear power, the resulting electricity shortage would seriously affect the economy and people's daily lives.

Of the nation's 50 nuclear reactors, only two at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear plant are generating power. Although no major blackout has occurred while all these reactors are offline, the power supply continues to walk a tightrope. Nuclear power opponents are missing the point when they argue that enough electricity has been provided even without nuclear power generation.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has said the government, on its own responsibility, would proceed with the processes to restart reactors whose safety has been confirmed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. His remarks are heartening.

Still, the nuclear authority will begin screening reactors no sooner than this summer, when new safety guidelines are expected to be compiled. The government should not waste anytime during that period. It must not neglect intensive preparations such as establishing confidence-building measures with local governments and residents in the areas concerned, and devising procedures to ensure reactors can be restarted without delay.

Because even aging thermal power generation facilities have been fired up to compensate for the idled nuclear reactors, the costs of liquefied natural gas and other fuel have increased by 3 trillion yen a year.

Although it is natural for power companies to strive to cut costs through restructuring, there are limits. TEPCO started raising power rates from April last year. KEPCO and Kyushu Electric Power Co. also have asked the government for approval to hike their power rates from this spring.

Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, is known as a metalworking industry city. In a survey conducted last autumn by the Kawaguchi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one in four companies said their business would collapse or be badly affected if power rates are increased. The survey covered midsize and smaller companies that are members of the chamber.

If nuclear reactors cannot be restarted within fiscal 2013, TEPCO and other utilities will likely be forced to further raise power rates. A crisis in employment caused by mass bankruptcies and closures of smaller companies is becoming an ever more realistic prospect.


Don't overly rely on renewables

According to a government estimate, electricity charges would double if nuclear power generation was abandoned. This would impose a heavy burden on household finances. Low-income households have little scope for reducing their electricity use because they already have been making power-saving efforts. We should be keenly aware that a policy of no nuclear power would hurt the weaker members of our society the most.

There are high expectations that renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, will be able to replace nuclear power. However, as things stand now, there is no visible prospect of renewable energy becoming a major power source. Electricity produced through renewable energy sources is unstable because it depends on weather conditions, and it is expensive.

Especially problematic is the system introduced in July under which the government obliges power companies to purchase renewable energy at fixed prices. The system is intended to encourage the spread of renewable energy.

Indeed, solar power output has increased under the new system. However, the system imposes additional burdens on consumers, as the power companies' cost of purchasing renewable energy is passed on through power bills.

In Germany, which introduced a similar system before Japan did, power charges for households have doubled as the cost of purchasing renewable energy swelled. The cost of buying renewable energy in Japan is about twice as high as that of Germany. The government should cut the purchase price to prevent power charges from surging.

Due to the DPJ administration's wavering attitude on nuclear power, local governments that host nuclear plants have become increasingly skeptical about the central government's nuclear policy.

It is important that the Abe administration carefully explain to these local governments how it will put the nation's nuclear policy back on track after the repeated missteps by the DPJ.

The government has tightened safety inspections on nuclear power plants, which could lead to the early decommissioning of some of them. If this happens, the government will need to consider how to find employment for plant workers who lost their jobs and provide alternative methods for boosting the local economy.

The Nuclear Damages Compensation Law requires electric power companies to bear all liabilities for nuclear accidents. We believe this is another reason why the credibility of the government's nuclear policy has crumbled. A review of the law was shelved by the administration of Abe's predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda. Abe should quickly start this review.

The financial cost of decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and decontaminating areas polluted with radioactive substances remains unclear, but it is apparent TEPCO will be unable to pay the entire amount by itself. Drawing up new measures to support the utility also will be a task for the Abe administration.


Show clear future vision

We want to remind the administration of the need to secure talented people who underpin the safety of nuclear power. If experienced employees in charge of field-work management at power suppliers and their related companies leave their jobs, it would hinder the smooth restart of idled reactors.

Unless the government shows a clear future vision on nuclear power, such as whether to continue the nation's nuclear fuel cycle program to recycle spent nuclear fuel, people who aspire to work in the nuclear sector will eventually dwindle. If such a thing happened, it would become difficult to maintain the nation's nuclear power technologies and hand them down to future generations. It will also mean that Japan will become unlikely to resolve the long-standing issue of the final disposal of spent fuel by itself.

An increasing number of emerging economies have started nuclear power generation or are increasing their nuclear power plants. We believe the best way for Japan to contribute to the international community is to refine its nuclear technologies to build power plants more resistant to not only natural disasters but also to accidents and terrorist attacks.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 8, 2013)
(2013年1月8日01時15分  読売新聞)


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