EDITORIAL: Addiction to nuclear power is the last thing Japan needs

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The state of nuclear emergency declared by the government on the day of the March 11, 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima has not yet been lifted. Eleven years later, the country is still reeling from the catastrophic damage caused to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake in eastern Japan and the tsunami that it generated.

Another nuclear crisis could threaten the very survival of this island nation. Moreover, no solution is in sight concerning the immense problem of the disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Despite this, there are growing calls to expand the use of nuclear energy as part of political efforts to combat global climate change. It is possible to reduce the country’s carbon footprint without relying on nuclear power generation. A return to a reliance on nuclear power driven by images of clean energy through nuclear power generation could create potentially serious problems in the future. As memories of the Fukushima disaster begin to fade, Japan must reaffirm its commitment to weaning itself from dependence on nuclear energy.

LACK OF DEBATE A NO-NO

Last year, the government announced a climate policy target of reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 46% from fiscal 2013 levels in the period to December 2013. fiscal year 2030. A longer-term goal of achieving carbon neutrality, or net zero carbon dioxide emissions, by 2050 has been codified into law. The government has also revised its basic energy plan. But these measures have not sparked a serious debate about the future of nuclear power generation. The basic plan calls for the maximum possible expansion of the use of renewable energy and the reduction of the nation’s dependence on nuclear energy as much as possible. But the government shows few signs of a serious commitment to taking up this political challenge.

Meanwhile, many politicians and business leaders have made calls to restart idle nuclear reactors, citing political imperatives such as lower carbon emissions, stable power supply and energy self-sufficiency. The case for ramping up nuclear power generation has also been bolstered by the European Union’s decision to consider atomic power as a means to stem global warming under certain conditions.

The government’s new “clean energy” initiative proposed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to include measures to promote research on small modular reactors and nuclear fusion technology.

While trying to stoke expectations about new technologies yet to be developed, the government has failed to deliver a direct response to a controversial industry proposal to boost the role of energy nuclear power by building new reactors and expanding or rebuilding existing facilities. . The government should not be allowed to gradually revert to expanding nuclear power generation without going through the genuine process of gaining public support. The process requires public participation after providing specific and detailed information on the benefits and risks of nuclear power generation and explaining government policy.

Proponents claim that nuclear power plants do not emit CO2 when generating electricity and point out that light water reactor technology is well established. But the same argument can also be applied to clean energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy. The production of electricity from these energy sources does not emit CO2 and is based on well-established technology.

HUGE POTENTIAL FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY

Some experts say Japan’s installed photovoltaic power generation capacity per unit area of ​​flat land is already among the highest in the world. They also point out that Japan is not rich in shallow coastal waters suitable for offshore wind power generation.

But renewable energy generation has the potential to supply up to twice Japan’s annual power supply just with economically viable installations in suitable areas, according to an estimate by the Ministry of the Environment. The Renewable Energy Institute and environmental groups have separately estimated that it will be possible to meet the government’s climate policy target for fiscal year 2030 without nuclear power and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 without nuclear power generation or thermal.

Renewable energies have enormous potential.

Take solar energy, for example. Solar panels have been installed in about 10% of single-family homes in Japan. If this ratio is increased to 20%, 13 gigawatts of additional energy would be produced, according to Hiroshi Segawa, professor of energy and environment at the University of Tokyo. Converting half of the abandoned farmland to solar farms would add 95 gigawatts, equivalent to the amount of electricity produced by dozens of 1-gigawatt nuclear reactors.

The government is unlikely to stick to its unrealistic baseline energy plan, which calls for increasing the share of nuclear power to 20-22% of the country’s total electricity generation in fiscal year 2030. To achieve this objective, the number of reactors in operation will have to be considerably increased.

The classic argument that nuclear energy is economical has also become much less convincing. Electricity generation costs in 2030 will be between 8 yen (6.7 US cents) and 11 yen higher per kilowatt-hour for solar power for businesses and between 11 yen higher or more for nuclear power, according to the Ministry of Industry. estimates.

The cost of offshore wind power generation is expected to be in the lower range of 26 yen in 2030. But the cost could come down. In bidding for contracts to operate wind power plants off Akita and Chiba prefectures late last year, a group of companies led by trading giant Mitsubishi Corp., which operates numerous offshore wind farms abroad, emerged victorious. The group won the tender by offering to sell the electricity produced at these facilities to electric utilities at prices ranging between 11.99 yen and 16.49 yen per kilowatt hour.

Japan will be left behind in the global race for a cleaner energy future if it fails to rapidly develop renewable energy technologies and improve operational efficiency.

THE 3/11 AFTERMATH MUST NOT BE FORGOTTEN

Although solar and wind power generation are sensitive to weather conditions, the problem can be overcome simply with energy storage facilities and by improving the operation of the electrical grid. Japan holds the largest number of patents in the world related to renewable energy technologies. It is time for Japan to capitalize on this reservoir of intellectual resources to fuel economic growth.

A system has been put in place for municipal governments to expand the use of renewable energy within local communities through consultation with local residents. Because this approach requires careful consideration of the impact of disaster preparedness strategies as well as the geographic features and ecosystems within the targeted communities, the Ministry of Environment ordered a re-assessment of the environmental impact regarding a number of projects to build huge solar parks. He also took a tough stance on plans that could increase the risk of disaster.

Renewable energy is also advantageous from the point of view of energy self-sufficiency and disaster preparedness. Renewable energies are energy resources developed entirely at home. Storing the electricity generated by these distributed power sources within communities would serve as insurance against grid or power plant disruptions due to natural disasters.

The failure of the government’s nuclear fuel recycling program must also be considered. The program is clearly bankrupt, given the government’s decision to abandon the Monju fast breeder reactor prototype program.

The first stage of the process, called “bunken chosa” (literature survey), aimed at evaluating two municipalities in Hokkaido for their suitability for hosting a disposal facility for highly radioactive waste from nuclear power plants is now underway. But there is no prospect of a decision on a likely disposal site in the foreseeable future. Confirming the very long-term safety of deep geological disposal of highly radioactive waste in Japan, which is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, is a difficult task.

Since the March 11 disaster, editorials by Asahi Shimbun have argued for a rapid transition to a society that is not dependent on nuclear power, emphasizing the importance of phasing out nuclear power generation.

We see no reason to change our position on this issue. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has again highlighted the risk of operating nuclear power plants. Severe nuclear accidents put a nation’s survival at risk and there is no foolproof way to prevent a catastrophe.

Let’s not forget that not so long ago, even people in remote areas of Fukushima closely monitored radiation levels with great anxiety on a daily basis.

–The Asahi Shimbun, March 22

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