Ending reliance on nuclear power

The 912,000 kW No. 3 reactor at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear power plant came to a complete shutdown on early Sunday morning for regular inspection. No nuclear reactors are now operating in Japan — the first such situation in 42 years. Japan should use this as an opportunity to analyze problems and dangers associated with nuclear power generation and resolve to reduce its reliance on nuclear power and eventually phase out of it altogether.

The accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has shown how catastrophic and irreparable damage a nuclear accident can cause. It also has exposed collusion between the government and the power industry which has resulted in laxness and irresponsibility in ensuring nuclear safety.

The government and power industry are franticly trying to restart nuclear power plants that are now offline. But they will never obtain consent from the populous as long as the nation lacks new, strict safety standards based on the thorough study of the Fukushima nuclear crisis and a powerful and competent nuclear regulatory authority free from the influence of government and the power industry.

Nuclear power generation used to supply about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity. That percentage is now zero, at least temporarily. Businesses must now exercise ingenuity to further save electricity. People must rethink their lifestyles characterized by large usage of power. The Fukushima nuclear crisis has highlighted the fact that the risk of nuclear power generation has been forced on people in rural areas in order to give consumers in urban areas the benefit of abundant electricity. This structure must be changed.

To help Japan reduce its reliance on nuclear power, every effort must be made to fully utilize Japan’s renewable energy sources such as geothermal, solar and wind power and biomass. This will help spread out power generation bases, but will also require large investments. Yet this path is inevitable since reliance on imported fossil fuel to replace nuclear power is likely to cause a trade deficit and it also increases greenhouse gas emissions.

People may have to shoulder the cost to pay for imported fossil fuel for the short run and for investment in green energy in the long run. This is the price required to build sustainable society. The government should change the power industry’s structure to increase competition while ensuring stable power supply. It also should ban new nuclear power plants and decommission older reactors and those lying near faults. In essence, it needs to lay out a long-term road map to phase out nuclear power altogether.