Changing electric power policy

The catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has demonstrated that the long-standing assertion by the power industry and the government that nuclear power is safe and cheap is sheer propaganda and a gigantic myth.

It proves that utilization of nuclear power involves great risks and that an electricity supply system based on large-scale power plants concentrated in certain areas is vulnerable to disasters. Regrettably, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda appears eager to revive nuclear power generation and is even pushing for the export of nuclear energy-related technologies.

Traditionally, the power industry and the trade and industry ministry’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency decided on construction of large-scale power stations, both thermal and nuclear, to meet predicted demand for electricity by key industrial sectors. But this approach excluded promotion of small-scale renewable energy sources scattered around the nation. It also paid almost no attention to the importance of power-saving efforts.

This approach should be changed. The shortage of electricity caused by the Fukushima nuclear fiasco has forced businesses and households to change their behavior and lifestyles concerning the use of electricity. This experience has shown that there is a lot of room for saving electricity.

The government says only that it will reduce dependence on nuclear power as much as possible for the middle and long term with an eventual goal of building a society that is not dependent on nuclear power.

It should set a clear date when Japan will eliminate its reliance on nuclear power and aggressively push energy-saving efforts as well as the development of renewable energy sources. To give an effective boost to green energy, it should devise transparent tax and subsidy systems to encourage investment in power savings and the development of renewable energy sources, as well as decide on reasonable price levels at which the established power companies buy electricity from renewable sources.

Power generation and power distribution should be separated to encourage entry of newcomers to power generation. But the separation should be designed so that stable power supplies are ensured. Power generation firms should be required to make public all the components of power prices to prevent them from freely raising electricity bills.

It is important to remember that the current system of allowing power companies to pass various costs to customers in their electricity bills is making people and enterprises pay higher rates.