Nuclear policy scaled back

Five-year science plan no longer promotes next-generation focus


The new five-year science and technology program approved Friday by the Cabinet excludes references to an earlier draft that promoted next-generation nuclear technologies, reflecting the government’s backpedaling on atomic power policy amid the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Noting the urgency of rethinking energy policy in light of the nuclear accident, the basic plan covering the five years through March 2016 instead stresses the need to develop renewable energy to deal with an anticipated power shortage, a stance in line with Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s calls for shifting away from nuclear power.

Cabinet approval of the plan, initially scheduled for the end of March, was postponed to allow experts from the Council for Science and Technology Policy to revise an earlier draft that was outlined in December, before the crisis began.

As a result, references to promoting research and development on the fast-breeder reactor fuel cycle, including the Monju prototype, and next-generation light-water reactors for practical use, were omitted.

Wording on promoting research and development in nuclear power was watered down as uncertainties remain over the government’s energy and nuclear power stances.

Kan, who said in July that the energy policy will be reassessed from scratch, is expected to step down possibly by the end of this month.

“Given that the nuclear power policy is to be essentially revised in light of the nuclear power plant accident, I think there will also be debates over fuel cycles and Monju,” science and technology minister Yoshiaki Takaki told a news conference after Friday’s Cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, the basic plan calls for strengthening research and development in areas such as monitoring and decontaminating radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Takaki said the new strategy places priority on fields related to rebuilding the areas afflicted by the March 11 disaster and the ensuing nuclear crisis.

Acknowledging the government’s risk- and crisis-management were flawed, as seen in the handling of the nuclear crisis, the plan states that research on how to protect the public in case of similar accidents involving nuclear power and other high-tech systems will be promoted.

The target for the government’s overall research and development expenditure is set at about ¥25 trillion, equivalent to 1 percent of gross domestic product, for five years.

Kan, Obama not meeting

Japan and the United States have dropped plans for an early September summit between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and President Barack Obama, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Friday amid indications that his boss will soon step down.

Edano told a news conference Kan’s visit to the United States has been scrubbed due to “Japan’s current political situation.” Kan has said he is ready to quit soon after the Diet passes two key bills, possibly next week.