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2013年7月 8日 (月)

13参院選 エネルギー政策 電力安定で経済再生に弾みを

The Yomiuri Shimbun July 8, 2013
Stable supply of power essential for reinvigorating the economy
13参院選 エネルギー政策 電力安定で経済再生に弾みを(7月7日付・読売社説)


Electricity, the “blood” of the economy, must be cheaply and stably secured to revive the Japanese economy.

There are 50 nuclear reactors in Japan, but only two of them, at the Oi nuclear power station of Kansai Electric Power Co., are operating. The nation’s supply and demand of electricity are as shaky as a tightrope now.

Nuclear reactors whose safety is confirmed must be restarted one by one to eliminate the power shortage.


All the parties except the ruling Liberal Democratic Party state in their policy platform for the upcoming House of Councillors election that nuclear power generation should be terminated in the future. But none of them have presented an effective plan to secure power. They should face up to the harmful effects on business, employment and the global environment that denuclearization would cause and discuss more realistic energy policies.

The LDP stipulates in its election pledges that the state should make utmost efforts to obtain the consent for reactivation from local governments hosting nuclear power plants. This is an appropriate pledge as a responsible government party.

Check N-plants quickly

New safety standards for nuclear power plants become effective on Monday. Based on the new standards, electric power companies will ask the Nuclear Regulation Authority to check the safety of their nuclear reactors for reactivation.

The authority should carry out safety inspections without delay.

A worrying factor is the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. in Niigata Prefecture. Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida has presented difficult demands for restarting the reactors. If the reactors are not restarted, power supply in TEPCO’s service area will not become stable, and this could cause TEPCO to post an ordinary loss for the third straight year, resulting in a management crisis.

After the House of Councillors election, the LDP and the government must jointly do their best to obtain the consent of local governments hosting nuclear power plants.

In its policy platform, the LDP has also presented a policy of increasing official assistance for exports of Japanese technologies related to infrastructure, including nuclear power generation. It is important to accelerate exports of infrastructure as a pillar of the government’s growth strategy.

The LDP also needs to coordinate policies with its coalition partner, New Komeito. In its policy platform, Komeito has not rejected restarting nuclear reactors, but it stipulates that the party aims to stop the use of nuclear power generation as soon as possible.

We expect the LDP and Komeito to explain to voters in an easy-to-understand manner to what degree the two parties differ in their perceptions concerning nuclear power generation.

DPJ policy unrealistic

Among the opposition parties, the Democratic Party of Japan, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party approve the restart of nuclear reactors at present, but they also stipulate they would aim to terminate the use of nuclear power in the future.

The DPJ’s electoral pledge of “reducing to zero the nuclear power generation in the 2030s” is in line with the energy policy adopted by the administration led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, which ended in December.

The content of the policy, worked out in the autumn of last year, was unrealistic, so the Cabinet did not adopt the policy because of adverse reactions from various quarters, including the business world and the Aomori prefectural government, which has taken the approach of expediting a nuclear power policy, and even the United States.

The Japanese Communist Party and People’s Life Party, for their part, even oppose reactivation of nuclear power plants that have been idled.

The facile argument seeking to break away from nuclear power generation seems to be pandering to the voters. It appears to be aimed at ramping up public support for the parties making the argument by exploiting people’s insecurities caused by the March 11, 2011, accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Although no major power blackout has taken place since the Fukushima accident, it is Pollyannaish to assume the nation’s electricity demand can be met without nuclear power. Due attention must be paid to the current stringent supply-demand situation of electricity in which thermal power stations, including superannuated ones, have been run at full blast.

Additional fuel costs of utilities to make up for power shortages because of the stoppage of their nuclear power stations stand at nearly 4 trillion yen a year. As a result, a colossal amount of the nation’s wealth has been flowing abroad to import fuel for thermal power generation, while electricity charges have continued to rise.

TEPCO, KEPCO and Kyushu Electric Power Co. have already raised power rates, while three other utilities, including Hokkaido Electric Power Co., have applied to the government to boost charges.

According to one estimate, electricity charges could double from the current level in the event of “zero nuclear power generation.”

Various assertions are being made to defend the wisdom of abolishing nuclear power, such as the claims that hikes in electricity charges can be curbed by reforming the current power supply system and that the nation can attain economic growth without nuclear power generation through investment in renewable energy projects such as solar power. These arguments, however, are mostly cases of wishful thinking and lack convincing grounds.

The parties advocating abolition of nuclear power must produce credible measures regarding how to avoid the negative impact on the national economy and people’s livelihood that would result from denuclearization.

Instead of the futile dichotomous debate over the use of nuclear power versus zero nuclear power, a cool-headed discussion should be conducted in a way that suits the reality of Japan’s energy circumstances.

Renewable energy sources have a number of shortcomings, including the fact that the amount of electricity they produce can erratically fluctuate due to climate conditions. Renewables cannot replace nuclear power generation, at least in the near future.

Thermal overload

Currently, about 90 percent of the nation’s power generation depends on thermal power generation, an extremely precarious situation from the viewpoint of energy security. Under the circumstances, greenhouse gas emissions have been sharply rising.

With a view to concurrently addressing many challenges such as enhancing the safety of nuclear power generation, realizing economic growth and conserving the environment, such options as replacing old thermal power stations with ones of the latest design should be considered.

After the Fukushima nuclear plant accident, enrollments of students in faculties and courses related to nuclear energy have fallen below quotas at undergraduate and postgraduate schools.

If nuclear power generation technologies are not handed down to younger generations, Japan may become unable to solve on its own such problems as settling the Fukushima nuclear accident and decommissioning the plant’s reactors and realizing the final disposal of nuclear waste, still less maintaining and managing existing nuclear facilities.

Yet another problem is the possibility of this country losing its special status as a nuclear strategy partner of the United States.

In the upcoming upper house election, the electorate should determine which parties have been seriously pondering how to effectively cope with the mountain of problems confronting this country.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 7, 2013)
(2013年7月7日01時32分  読売新聞)


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