In a referendum Monday, an overwhelming 94 percent of Italian voters rejected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s plan to have Italy return to nuclear power generation. They also rejected water supply privatization and a law exempting him and other ministers from appearance in courts.

Clearly the people of Italy take a serious view of the accidents at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which was badly damaged in the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Germany decided June 6 to abolish its 17 reactors by 2022 and Switzerland decided June 8 to stop its five reactors by 2034. Italy had stopped the operation of its five reactors at four locations by 1990, following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.

After the Italian referendum, industry minister Banri Kaieda expressed his intention of continuing nuclear power generation by saying that nuclear power is an important pillar of Japan’s energy policy. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara characterized Italian voters’ decision as a product of “mass hysteria.”

Japan may have to rely on nuclear power as a short-term policy to secure energy supply, since it cannot import electricity as European countries do. But these factors should not be used as an excuse to maintain reliance on nuclear power.

The Fukushima nuclear crisis has shown the risks of nuclear power generation. It is an unstable provider of electricity and is costly if indirect outlays, such as accident compensation, subsidies for host municipalities and the costs of disposing of spent nuclear fuel, are included.

Japan should accelerate the development of renewable sources for power generation, on which the policy pushed by the nuclear power establishment has put a brake for more than 10 years. The nation should strive to make full use of geothermal, solar and wind power sources, and to exploit the potential of biomass derived from wood and grass. Japan should also improve energy conservation and heat insulation of buildings. These efforts will help open a new frontier in technological innovation and create new job opportunities.

The monopoly in the power market must be broken so that small-scale green power generation can flourish. The process to make energy policy decisions must be made transparent to fully expose moves of the nuclear power lobby.

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