Kyodo News One year after a disastrous nuclear accident in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan is still trying to formulate a new national energy policy.
Exactly what this policy will be remains unclear as numerous obstacles stand in the way of securing both current and potential energy sources.
One certainty is that the Advisory Committee for Energy, which is working on a draft of a new long-term energy policy, will have to recommend a modest change in Japan’s nuclear-oriented policy amid growing opposition to atomic power.
The committee, which advises the minister of international trade and industry, is expected to offer recommendations on a basic energy policy next spring, including a reduction in the use of nuclear power.
The government, for its part, is already considering scaling back the number of new nuclear plants to be built by fiscal 2010 from up to 20, as originally planned, to about 13.
“It’s no longer possible to build one nuclear power plant after another,” said a senior official of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency.
But some government officials argue that atomic power will remain the axis of the country’s energy policy, saying the envisioned shift would only delay the construction of nuclear plants for several more years.
Also problematic is the government-supported Arabian Oil Co.’s loss in February of its oil-drilling concessions in Saudi Arabia, which dealt a severe blow to Tokyo’s goal of expanding overseas oil fields under its direct control.
Arabian Oil’s failure to renew its 40-year-old drilling rights in the Khafji oil field as well as the rise in crude oil prices over the past two years have left Japan feeling vulnerable.
At the same time, Japan cannot continue to depend heavily on oil as a main energy source, because it has vowed to reduce artificial emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
“We face a carbon dioxide problem,” the Natural Resources and Energy Agency official said. “If we burn oil or coal, carbon dioxide will be emitted.”
Japan, alongside other developed countries, is committed to holding down emissions of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen dioxide under a protocol adopted at a U.N.-sponsored climate conference in Kyoto in December 1997.
Now that the use of nuclear and fossil fuels has become less palatable, it is all the more vital to cultivate alternative energy sources or to conserve energy. But this is easier said than done.
New energy sources such as wind, solar and subterranean heat are too costly to develop and thus account for only 1 percent of the nation’s total energy supply at present.
“Each of these new energy sources has many problems. I think wind can be a good energy source, but wind power stations cause noise pollution and have been criticized by nongovernmental organizations,” said a top official of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.
“It would be acceptable to build wind power plants in mountainous regions, but it would be necessary to string power transmission lines over valleys to bring electricity generated over to big cities,” the official said.
As for energy-saving efforts, the question is how to curb energy consumption in homes and offices, as well as by motor vehicles.
Government figures show that energy consumption in these spheres has doubled over the past 25 years, although demand in the industrial sector has been almost static during the same period.
Some officials say that what the government can do to curtail energy use in the nonindustrial sector is quite limited. They point out that conservation efforts are mostly futile since nobody wants to stop using air conditioners or cars, even if they are aware of the need to save energy.
“How we cut back on energy consumption in homes or for vehicles will determine, after all, what lifestyle each one of us pursues in the future,” said another official of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency.
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