Due to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011, it has become impossible for Japan to carry out its former energy policy, one that depended on nuclear power
generation. The policy target was to cut the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent from the 1990 level by the year 2020, partially by building 14 more nuclear power reactors. This target for carbon dioxide emmissions was Japan’s pledge to the international community. Now that Japan has suffered extremely severe radiation damage from last year’s nuclear accident, it is evident to everyone that it is no longer possible for the nation to achieve this goal.
For this reason, the Japanese government has been forced to review its energy policy.
The previous Cabinet, led by Naoto Kan, attempted to revise the policy from the viewpoint of Japan’s departure from nuclear power generation. His successor Yoshihiko Noda, however, toned down Kan’s policy and is set to review the former policy with the aim of reducing Japan’s dependence on nuclear power. Noda claims that the reduction of Japan’s dependence on nuclear power generation is his public pledge, but to what extent the dependence should be reduced will be decided upon by politicians after national debates are held on the issue. Although it has been the bureaucrats who have formulated policies most of the time up until recently, the current government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is striving to alter this tradition, and introduction of the new decision-making system is one example of this change.
The Energy and Environment Council (EEC), which was set up within the National Policy Unit of the Cabinet, has proposed a national debate on the desirable energy-mix options.
The EEC says energy options will be presented to the public before they start the national debates. They therefore consulted the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for energy options based on the share of various energy sources, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEA) for options concerning the nuclear fuel cycle, and the Environment Ministry (EM) for measures to cope with global warming.
Based on the reports from the two ministries and JAEA, the EEC formulated three options on the share of nuclear power generation in the total domestic power supply and released them on June 29. As the current basic energy plan lays out Japan's energy strategy heading towards 2030, the share of nuclear power in 2030 was proposed.
The current share of nuclear power
In Japan, the operation of all nuclear power stations was halted on or before May 5, and only one reactor at Ohi Nuclear Power Station resumed operations on July 4, despite a strong public outcry against the restart. A second reactor at the nuclear power station will probably restart operations at the end of July 2012 . As for other nuclear power stations, it will not be so easy to resume operation. Japan's new nuclear regulatory commission is to establish new safety standards based on the results of the official investigations into the Fukushima nuclear disaster and will determine the propriety of resuming operations of each reactor.
As things stand now, the proposed review of the share of nuclear power should have been based on the current situation where all nuclear power stations are shut down or only two reactors are operational. The fact, however, is that the options are based on the share of nuclear power in the pre-nuclear disaster period.
One of the three options is to cut the share of nuclear power in the nation's total power supply to zero. This option calls for realizing a total departure from nuclear power generation with strong determination and at as early a date as possible, while achieving a desirable energy mix that depends mainly on renewable energy sources. This is the only option that aims at the termination of nuclear power generation.
The second option is to cut the share of nuclear power to 15% by 2030. This figure is based on two factors. One of them is the plan to decommission nuclear reactors after 40 years of service, which was decided upon in negotiations on the establishment of the new nuclear power regulatory commission. If nuclear reactors are shut down after 40 years of service, and no new ones are built, the ratio of nuclear power will be reduced to 15 percent by 2030 (calculated on the assumption that the average operation rate stands at 80%), and to zero by around 2050. The second option will also call for reinforcement of safety and anti-disaster measures at nuclear power stations.
However, this option is to be reviewed sometime around 2030, taking into account the speed of expansion in the use of renewable energy. This may make leeway for extending the period of operation of old nuclear reactors, or for building new ones.
The third option is to maintain the current 20-25% share of nuclear power. This figure is based on the 2010 data that nuclear power generation accounted for 26% of the nation’s power supply. Whether or not this option is appropriate depends on the operation rates of nuclear reactors. Should power shortages occur, this is likely to pave the way for construction of new nuclear reactors that have already been planned by electric power suppliers.
The three options do not fully reflect the views of the people who are demanding a nuclear phase-out. For example, they have proposed that more radical energy-saving measures be introduced to achieve the 25% cut in carbon dioxide emissions that Japan has pledged. But all three options estimate the cut to be achieved by the electric power generation sector at a much smaller 10%. In the meetings of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, where the three options were discussed, the anti-nuclear members proposed discussions on this issue many times in an attempt to expand the size of the reduction, but in vain.
Methods of national debates on energy mix options
The government says it will listen to public opinion on the three options via various means, such as public opinion polls conducted by the mass media, public hearings to be held at 11 sites across the country, the public comments system, and the nation’s first deliberative poll, in which the public will submit their opinions and discuss the issue in debate sessions to be held across the nation. The government plans to grasp the trend of public opinion through these efforts. In the deliberative poll, around 3,000 people will be randomly selected, and asked to respond to questionnaires. Of these, 120 will be chosen and divided into groups of several persons each for the debate session. There are, however, some concerns about this scheme. The government plans to adopt one of the three options by the end of August, and so there is not much time left. Whether or not the deliberative poll will be held as projected remains uncertain under these circumstances. Another concern is that the period for accepting public comments is limited to one month, and this may be too short to allow for a substantial number of public opinions to be submitted.
What about options for the nuclear fuel cycle?
It is no exaggeration to say that the nuclear fuel cycle has been left out of the options for national debates. If all nuclear power stations were to be decommissioned, it would become impossible to recycle spent nuclear fuel, and all spent fuel would then have to be disposed of directly. In this case, there would be no need to put the issue to a national debate. But if other options are selected, three different plans can be proposed; to recycle the spent fuel, to dispose of the spent fuel directly, or to do both at the same time. These plans are mentioned in the energy-option proposal, but are not proposed as “options.”
Motohisa Furukawa, State Minister of National Strategy, Economic and Fiscal Policy, said in a recent press conference that the consideration of options on the recycling of spent nuclear fuel is not an issue that should be determined by vote. His position that the energy policy should be put to the vote (national debates) because it will serve as the nation’s basic policy, while the policy on spent nuclear fuel does not fall within this framework is not convincing. However, a non-official study group led by Japan’s Nuclear Disaster Minister Goshi Hosono, and with the participation of Tetsuya Endo, Kenji Yamaji and other lawmakers, had earlier proposed a number of plans that included the use of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture jointly with other nations. Furukawa probably made the above remark because he was influenced by this proposal.
There is another possibility. A secret meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) was held on April 24, at which the government officials and people from the power industry jointly discussed Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy. This disclosure by the media spurred public distrust of the commission’s report and Furukawa may have presumed that the JAEC-proposed options on the spent nuclear fuel cycle should not be presented to the public.
Nevertheless, JAEC presented its report concerning options on the spent nuclear fuel cycle that matched with the energy mix options to the Energy and Environment Council on June 29. The report proposed that all spent nuclear fuel be directly disposed of in the case of Japan’s total departure from nuclear power generation. In the case where the share of nuclear power is reduced to 15%, the report said part of the spent fuel should be recycled and the rest should be disposed of directly, and in the case where the share of nuclear power is higher, all spent fuel should be recycled or part of it disposed of directly.
Secret meetings disclosed
The Mainichi Shimbun disclosed the existence of the secret meetings in its May 24 issue. According to media reports, the secret meetings, dubbed ‘study meetings,’ were held 23 times at a conference room on the seventh floor of the Central Government Building No. 4, in which JAEC has its office. Each time, more than 30 people participated in the meeting, including officials from electric power suppliers, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., JAEA, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The fact that the electric power suppliers attended all of the 23 meetings became the target of public criticism. In the meetings, the contents of the JAEC report were reportedly revised in line with the intentions of the electric power suppliers.
Although JAEC admitted that it held meetings attended by electric power suppliers, it insisted that the purpose of the meetings was limited to contacting the parties concerned in preparation for compiling the report that was to be presented to the JAEC subcommittee. Moreover, JAEC denied the allegation that the commission revised the report to reflect the views of electric power suppliers.
The conference materials that were later made public indicate that the organizer allotted the work of drafting responses to the proposals presented by the technical sub-committee members. This means that the secret meetings virtually served as occasions to discuss the contents of the report.
Among others, Chairman Shunsuke Kondo promised to take the following measures;
1) to not hold secret meetings again,
2) to make public the materials which were discussed at the meeting,
3) to return all officials dispatched to JAEC from electric power suppliers by around the end of June, and
4) to present plans for the reform of JAEC and its deliberation councils.
When this writer met Chairman Kondo on July 3, he said the return of the officials of electric power suppliers to their offices at the end of June had made it difficult for JAEC to carry out desk work without delay. His remark indicates that JAEC was taking advantage of its cozy relationship with electric power suppliers in order to draft its policies.
With regard to the reform of JAEC, rules for handling information and for creating the minutes of its meetings were decided upon, but no proposals have been presented yet on the appropriate role of JAEC in the future. The commission says it will discuss this issue from now on.
Because of the mass media’s revelations regarding JAEC’s secret meetings, deliberations on nuclear power policy by JAEC’s New Nuclear Policy Planning Council, previously held in parallel with the discussions on the energy-mix options, were suspended.
Hideyuki BAN (Co-Director of CNIC)
Reported on July 4, 2012
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