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2014年4月13日 (日)

エネルギー計画 「原発活用」は現実的な戦略だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:28 pm, April 12, 2014
Government takes realistic stance on N-power in basic energy plan
エネルギー計画 「原発活用」は現実的な戦略だ


The basic energy plan, which serves as a guideline for the government’s energy policy and was endorsed at a Cabinet meeting on Friday, represents a leap forward in efforts to normalize that policy, which has been marred by a series of turnabouts. The government now must reestablish a regime for a stable supply of energy.

The plan defined nuclear energy, the key focus in drafting the program, as “an important base load electricity source” that generates electricity day and night. It also clearly stated that nuclear power plants will resume operations after their safety is confirmed.

The plan is appropriate for officially ending the policy line of phasing out nuclear energy that was upheld by the administrations of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Komeito consent was key

Following the outbreak of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operations of all 48 of the nation’s nuclear reactors have been suspended—a situation that is simply abnormal.

The government initially planned to have the basic energy plan endorsed at a Cabinet meeting early this year, but it had to wait until now because of prolonged efforts to reach a consensus between the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner New Komeito.

Komeito, which had vowed to swiftly stop nuclear power generation during election campaigns, eventually agreed to the basic policy of utilizing nuclear power—a realistic judgment in light of the stringent power supply situation facing Japan.

Nuclear power accounted for 30 percent of the nation’s electricity generation before the nuclear crisis. Nearly 90 percent of the power once generated by nuclear plants is now being compensated for by thermal power.

Depending excessively on thermal power, for which fuel must be imported from abroad, is extremely risky from a security viewpoint.

The additional fuel costs incurred by the substitution of thermal power top ¥3.6 trillion a year, draining an enormous amount of national wealth from Japan into resource-rich countries.

The electricity rates TEPCO charges households have risen by 40 percent from before the crisis, and the corresponding rates by Kansai Electricity Power Co. have increased by nearly 30 percent. As things stand now, additional rate hikes are inevitable.

It is worrying that there are no prospects yet of resuming the operations of nuclear power plants. The government should gear up efforts to restart nuclear power plants through such measures as persuading the local governments that host power plants to accept their resumption.

Energy target doubtful

Another focal point of the basic plan was how to estimate the spread of solar power and other renewable energy. The government stated in the plan that it would aim to raise the percentage of renewable energy in the electricity supply to more than 20 percent by the end of fiscal 2030, from about 10 percent in fiscal 2012.

The target was set in deference to Komeito and others, who place importance on renewable energy. Although it is necessary to expand the use of renewable energy, it is doubtful whether it was appropriate to set a numerical target only for renewable energy when the government has yet to compile an overall plan with appropriate percentage targets for all energy sources.

Raising the percentage of renewable energy to 20 percent means that renewable energy sources must be used to produce electricity equivalent to that generated by the full operation of 10 nuclear reactors, in addition to what is currently being generated by renewable energy sources.

To produce that amount of electricity with solar power would require a tract of land 10 times the area inside the JR Yamanote Line, which loops around central Tokyo. In the case of wind power generation, it would require about 20,000 windmills. As things stand, these options have only a faint possibility of realization.

There are many hurdles to overcome, such as abrupt changes in power generation volume depending on sunshine and wind conditions. It will be impossible to find a way unless technology development is accelerated through the joint efforts of the private and public sectors.

The crucial point is to promptly set a target figure for the composition of all power resources, including nuclear power generation, and present a road map for achievement of that goal.

If the direction of the nation’s energy policy remains uncertain, it will be difficult for companies to work out business strategies for the medium and long term. There are also fears it will hinder the Abe administration’s Abenomics economic policy.

It is essential to diversify energy sources in a balanced manner among thermal generation, nuclear power and renewable energy, which all have merits and demerits in terms of economic efficiency, stability of supply and environmental impact. It is also necessary to take a multilateral approach, including the development and construction of thermal power plants with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The basic energy plan states that dependence on nuclear power generation “will be reduced as much as possible.” But at the same time, it says “the nuclear power volume to be secured will be assessed.” This leaves room for the possibility of building a new nuclear power plant or reactor. But there is no denying that the plan stopped short of clarifying its stance.

A policy to promote construction of new nuclear power plants or reactors should be clarified in the future for the purpose of maintaining nuclear technology and nurturing related human resources.

The public has deep-seated concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants, partly due to the delay in ending the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The government and TEPCO must work together closely to end the crisis as soon as possible.

Pave way for final disposal

To utilize nuclear power generation, it is essential to pave the way for resolving the issue of a final disposal site for radioactive waste. It was natural for the basic energy plan to say “the government will take the initiative in tackling the matter.” It is urgent to carry out concrete measures, such as selection of a final disposal site.


Regarding the nuclear fuel cycle, the plan retains an expression that the matter “will be dealt with flexibly.” However, concern remains.

It is laudable, on the other hand, that the Monju fast-breeder reactor has been positioned anew as a focus of international research to reduce the amount and toxicity of nuclear waste. This must be used as a tailwind for the steady promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle.

China has 15 nuclear reactors and plans to construct an additional 55 units. If a serious nuclear accident occurs in China, radioactive substances will fall on Japan.

Exporting Japanese nuclear reactors with high safety performance to emerging countries will contribute to the international community and simultaneously lead to securing Japan’s own safety.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 12, 2014)


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