Interim report sets new course in light of disaster

Energy policy revised to cut nuclear role

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

The government officially shifted its energy policy away from nuclear power Friday with the release of an interim report vowing to pare reliance on atomic energy.

Friday’s report is in line with an earlier pronouncement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan that the nation should reduce its dependence on nuclear energy — a remark he later termed his “personal opinion” after taking flak for failing first to consult with his Cabinet.

Mired in the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the government has been carrying out a complete rethink of its energy policy, a basic outline of which is expected by the end of the year.

“We will create a scenario to review the current energy plan (from scratch) to reduce reliance on nuclear power,” Kan said during a government meeting on energy and environmental issues. “I believe we have established the core of the government’s environmental strategy on innovative energy.”

The report stresses the need for national debate and to “actualize an energy strategy that weighs the importance of national interests.”

“The conflicting views between anti- and pronuclear power have blocked discussion and created an unfortunate detachment between public sentiment and the experts’ judgements,” the report says. “We must promote a national debate that overcomes the two opposing sides.”

The government also listed a series of measures to deal with the threat of power shortages, including spinning off power distribution from the business of electricity generation, effectively ending the regional monopolies currently enjoyed by the utilities.

“We will first make efforts to reform the demand in electricity through measures such as saving energy and we will also reform the supply structure and encourage the participation of all groups in power distribution,” Kan said.

At the moment, 10 power companies monopolize their regions by controlling both electricity generation and distribution.

The plan for a two-tier system would likely trigger strong protests from utilities, which argue that the division would disrupt the steady supply of electricity.

On the other hand, if newcomers are allowed to enter the market, electricity prices would be expected to drop.

Before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, about 30 percent of electricity was generated by nuclear power. In June 2010, the Kan Cabinet endorsed an energy plan to increase Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy to 53 percent by 2030.

But Kan shifted gears after the Fukushima nuclear plant accident as the public grew more fearful of atomic power.