To sum up the contents of the Innovative Strategy, its objective is to put all possible policy resources into efforts to shut down all nuclear power plants by the 2030s. To this end, the strategy calls on the government to wage a “green energy revolution,” and to promote highly efficient use of thermal power generation, cogeneration, and other thermal power generating systems for the purpose of securing a stable supply of energy. The strategy also calls for a reform of the electric power system, such as full liberalization of the electric power market, separation of power generation and transmission, and a broad and neutral power transmission and distribution network. These efforts are intended to help the government carry out robust measures against global warming.
As for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, the Innovative Strategy says the project to reprocess such fuel should continue according to existing policy. (Details on this point will be mentioned later.) It also said these policies should be reviewed constantly. To promote joint verification and implementation of these policies by the government and the public, the strategy calls for establishment of an official inspection system within the cabinet secretariat. The Innovative Policy also refers to Japan’s nuclear power policy and the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, but this will be taken up later.
Does the strategy make the right compromises?
The reality is that the contents of the Innovative Strategy are a compromise between the zero scenario and the 15% scenario. In any case, this writer thinks highly of the inclusion of the zero nuclear plant policy in the strategy.
Considering that the previous discussions held by the councils of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) were based on the position that the great expansion of renewable energy would threaten the future of nuclear power generation, the stipulation of the zero nuclear policy in the Innovative Policy is extremely meaningful and significant. Once the direction towards the nuclear-free society is clearly set, various related measures are sure to be formulated and implemented in an orderly fashion. For this reason, it is extremely important for us to decide on the zero nuclear policy now and to strive to inform the public of this policy as widely as possible.
If the direction towards a nuclear phase-out becomes clear, we will be able to continue blocking the restart of the nuclear power plants by making the most of the results of public opinion polls and to eventually achieve zero dependence on nuclear power. Even if some nuclear power plants were to resume operation amid this trend, the meaning of the resumption would be reduced considerably.
Problems of the Innovative Strategy
(1) Retreat from the scenario to achieve a nuclearfree-society by 2030
Although the “zero scenario” called for achieving the nuclear-free society as soon as possible before 2030, this was later modified to “by the 2030s.” This means that the time of achieving the phase-out will be delayed by 10 years at the most. In spite of the situation where the public comments, public hearings and the deliberative poll revealed that many people supported the zero nuclear plant scenario, their opinions were not fully reflected in the Innovative Strategy. The strategy calls for introduction of all possible policy resources into the efforts to achieve the zero scenario, and if this is fully implemented, it should be possible to achieve the zero scenario much earlier.
(2) The real content of the Innovative Strategy is the same as the 15% scenario
Although the Innovative Strategy calls on the government to put all possible policy resources in its efforts to achieve a nuclear-free society by the 2030s, the government will now begin to work out concrete plans. Moreover, the targets to be achieved by using all possible policy resources are the same as those of the 15% scenario. In the zero scenario, the target amount of renewable energy to be introduced by the year 2030 was set at 350 billion kWh by taking measures against global warming into consideration. However, in the Innovative Strategy, the target amount of renewable energy was reduced to 300 billion kWh, which is the same as that of the 15% scenario.
In the Innovative Strategy, the introduction of new policies, such as full liberalization of the power market and separation of electric power generation and transmission, are clearly stipulated. The government should work hard to implement these policies so that they contribute to a reduction in the share of nuclear power. In spite of the fact that the partial liberalization of the market has already been achieved, the monopoly of the electric power companies has not yet been broken and the environment for full-fledged competition has yet to be created in the market. Considering this, it is necessary for the government to carry out a reform of related systems and regulations to prevent the wateringdown of policies in the process of formulation of concrete plans.
(3) Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to be continued for the time being
The Innovative Strategy refrained from going into details on the nuclear fuel reprocessing program, and called for continuation of the program for the time being. As for policies which should be given priority under the current circumstances, the Innovative Strategy cited continuation of the nuclear fuel reprocessing program, and initiation of research on the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Referring to the Monju project, the prototype fast-breeder reactor of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the strategy proposed a plan in which Monju would be used for research for a limited period of time, the results of the research being evaluated as it is completed. It also proposed that the government promote research and development on technology to reduce nuclear waste, technology to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, and also support research and development on burner reactors*. The strategy called on the government to take responsibility for the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, and to set up a system in which the government, the relevant local governments and the communities that are using electricity generated by nuclear power plants hold discussions.
These policies were drawn up apparently in consideration of Aomori Prefecture, which hosts the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village (As for Monju, opinions of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology (MEXT) were fully reflected.). Aomori Governor Shingo Mimura repeatedly stressed in a meeting of the New Nuclear Policy Planning Council of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission that the prefectural government would send the spent nuclear fuel back to
the plants should the central government discontinue the nuclear fuel reprocessing program. In addition, he insisted that the prefectural government would also not accept the high-level waste returned from the UK, and that it would reject the planned construction of an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in Mutsu City, Aomori Prefecture.Confronted with this situation, the government seemed to have felt the need to work out measures for settling this plight. Previously, the government had apparently hoped that the majority of the public participating in the national debate would support the 15% scenario, which would probably have enabled the government to continue with the nuclear fuel reprocessing project and win the understanding of the Aomori governor. Against this expectation, the public demanded a shutdown of all nuclear power plants. Moreover, the government did not have time to negotiate with the prefectural governor on the nuclear fuel reprocessing project at that time. Given this situation, it is my view that the government was forced to draw up a statement saying that it would discuss the new energy policy with Aomori and other related regional governments and the "international community" with a sense of responsibility, while tackling the spent fuel reprocessing issue according to traditional policy.
Among the policies included in the Innovative Strategy, the policy to commence research on the direct disposal of spent nuclear wastes is new. This writer presumes that both METI and MEXT have not allocated budget to such research thus far because the government has proceeded with the nuclear fuel reprocessing project. The Cabinet’s decision on the continuation of the nuclear fuel recycling project has raised the concern that research on the direct disposal of spent nuclear wastes would be neglected, as previously.
The strategy says the government will proceed with the spent nuclear fuel recycling project for the time being but will hold discussions on the long-term policy in a responsible manner. The contents of the discussion are therefore consistent with the government-set goal to idle all nuclear power plants by the 2030s. In the announcement on the option of the nuclear fuel reprocessing policy made by JAEC on June 21, a rider statement was added stating that a comprehensive evaluation of the business operation of the nuclear fuel reprocessing project will be carried out within the next several years. This decision was not stipulated in the Innovative Strategy, but it is certain that this decision was taken into consideration.
Repercussions from business circles
Three major economic organizations, namely the Japan Economic Federation (JEF), the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (JACE) held a joint news conference on September 18 to express stiff opposition to the zero nuclear policy, saying, “Japan's business circles can never accept the zero nuclear policy.” They cited many reasons for their objection, for example, that it would push up the cost of thermal power generation and raise electricity charges, and the consequence of this would be that the Japanese businesses will shift their production overseas, accelerating the hollowing-out of Japanese industries. They went on to say that this would make it difficult for enterprises to maintain the current level of employment in Japan. They insisted that the zero nuclear plant policy is not consistent with the cabinet’s economic growth strategy, which aims to achieve an average economic growth rate of two percent. Moreover, they appeared to have presented all other possible reasons they could think of, including that a nuclear phase-out policy would make it difficult for Japan to develop new technology for ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants and to secure necessary experts in that field, and that such a policy would damage Japan’s ties with the United States.
In the 32nd meeting of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee, METI’s Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, five members, Shoei Utsuda, Sadayuki Sakakibara, Satoru Tanaka, Masakazu Toyoda, and Kenji Yamaji, jointly submitted a written opinion to the effect that the committee should rethink its energy policy so that Japan will maintain a certain level of nuclear power. This is the same request as that made by the economic sector. The committee members, however, cited a decline in the competitiveness of Japanese industries and an outflow of Japan’s wealth to overseas markets as the reasons for their position, in addition to the hollowing out of the Japanese industries.
Economic circles are seeking solely their immediate interest. It seems that they want to avoid the big change of a collapse of the nuclear power industry, to expand energy mix options, and to gain a free hand in economic activities. However, they apparently wish to leave the tasks of the clean-up operations of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and the disposal of high-level radioactive nuclear wastes to the government. There will be no bright future for Japanese economic circles if they force the public to accept the negative legacy of nuclear power generation and simply seek profits from their economic activities.
Ambiguous Cabinet decision
It was probably because of such repercussions from the business sector that the government stopped short of approving the Innovative Strategy at a Cabinet meeting on September 19.
Instead the cabinet adopted the statement that the government will "hold responsible discussions on the strategy with local governments hosting nuclear power plants as well as the international community to win understanding from the public," and will "put the strategy into practice in a flexible manner while constantly verifying and reviewing it."
Where’s the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) going?
The Innovative Strategy stipulated that the government will establish a new nuclear power policy based mainly on deliberations by the Energy and Environment Council, and carry out a fundamental review of JAEC. It called for establishment of a panel which will discuss the feasibility of dissolving or streamlining JAEC, by taking into consideration its functions, for example, of verifying Japan’s use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
In response to this, JAEC decided at its regular meeting on October 2 to abolish its Council for a New Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy and its technical subcommittee on nuclear power and the nuclear fuel cycle. At the 29th meeting of the Council, this writer insisted that JAEC itself should work out a reform plan that included the option of JAEC’s retention of its organization. Nevertheless, the committee office was reluctant to formulate such a reform plan, saying that the public would not trust a JAEC reform plan anyway. JAEC thereby avoided engaging in self-criticism.
It is now hard to judge whether the plan to have the National Policy Unit of the Cabinet Secretariat formulate new nuclear energy policy is appropriate, or what the government should do with Japan’s nuclear watchdog JAEC (although it has not functioned well so far).
Should cabinet ministers formulate the new nuclear energy policy on their own without holding a national debate, amid the current situation where the shifting of policy formulation and implementation from a bureaucrat-led style of governance to governance initiated by politicians is not working well, the policy is likely to be mapped out at the discretion of METI officials. I am seriously worried about this possibility.
This writer hopes full-fledged discussions will be held on energy policy during this chaotic period.
The direction of the Innovative Strategy
Although the Innovative Strategy is the first to stipulate the zero nuclear plant policy, deliberations on the basic energy plan to be drawn up in accordance with the Innovative Strategy and based on the law, have been stalled. Chairman Akio Mimura of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy (senior advisor to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, which merged on October 1, 2012) has put a halt to the deliberations on the basic plan. Some media have reported that the subcommittee will draw up the plan after the turn of the year. However, the lower house election is scheduled to be held in December, and a change of government is quite likely to occur. Should this happen, there is a possibility that the Innovative Strategy will be scrapped and the new government will make a policy shift towards maintaining nuclear power.
Meanwhile those who are demanding total elimination of nuclear power are working hard to make the nuclear energy policy the main issue in the next general election.
Hideyuki BAN (Co-Director of CNIC)
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