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EDITORIAL: Reflections on 2 years without nuclear power ahead of planned restarts via The Asahi Shimbun

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Opinion polls show that more than half of the general public is opposed to restarting nuclear reactors. The public’s desire to keep the reactors offline, even at the cost of inconvenience, is due to the fact that people have learned how dreadful atomic energy can be.

However, the Abe administration is seeking a return to nuclear power. It is preparing to restart Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in August, and aims eventually to have atomic energy account for 20 percent or more of Japan’s electricity mix in the future.

We oppose any return to nuclear power that comes without serious debate. Japan should make utmost efforts to avoid restarts, while at the same time taking care that doing so will not place an onerous burden on people’s living standards. Our energy needs should be centered on renewable energy sources rather than nuclear power as the primary source of electricity.

POWER DEMAND ALREADY COVERED

The Asahi Shimbun published a series of editorials in 2011 calling for a society free of nuclear power.

We stated that all of Japan’s nuclear reactors should be decommissioned, hopefully in 20 to 30 years, with priority given to aged reactors and high-risk reactors. The reactors to be kept alive should be selected on a “safety first” basis and limited to those necessary from the viewpoint of supply and demand.

We also stated that Japan should do its best to develop and spread the use of renewable energy sources while simultaneously pursuing measures for power saving and energy conservation. Thermal power generation could be strengthened as a stopgap measure, although steps should be sought in the long term so that a departure from nuclear energy does not contribute to global warming.

We also said Japan should push forward with power industry reform to encourage new entrants into the market while moving toward a decentralized energy society where wisdom and consumer choice play a greater role.

Our basic ideas remain the same. But the situation has changed over the last four years.

The most dramatic development is that the amount of electricity generated by nuclear reactors is now zero.

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Japan, under these circumstances, must develop renewable energy sources as quickly as possible and pursue a shift to a distributed system of electric power. Indispensable to that end are policy initiatives for guiding a switch to the new direction.

The central government should set a pathway for reform and focus its resources on upgrades on the power grid, disposal of nuclear waste and other efforts. There should also be organizational arrangement for pursuing the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, assistance to local governments that will lose revenue from the nuclear plants they host, and transitional measures for business operators associated with nuclear power generation.

FUKUSHIMA DISASTER THE STARTING POINT

The Abe administration, however, is heading in the opposite direction.

It initially said it would reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy as much as possible, but then changed course to maintaining nuclear plants, and left it all up to the Nuclear Regulation Authority to make all decisions on the safety of nuclear reactors ahead of any go-aheads for restarts.

The NRA is tasked only with screening procedures to ensure the safe operation of nuclear power plants. It is not in any way responsible for the entire policy.

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