The government on July 14 began a series of public hearings on the future weight of nuclear power in Japan’s electricity generation. They are being held in 11 cities and the last hearing will take place on Aug. 4. Although the government says the hearings are a chance for it to hear what the people have to say, clearly they are just formality and the government has no intention of promoting informed public discussions on the matter.

In the hearings held so far, three people at each hearing were selected by lot to express opinions on one of the following three scenarios: reducing the weight of nuclear power to zero percent, 15 percent or 20 to 25 percent in 2030, from the 26 percent in fiscal 2010. Thus nine people expressed their opinions in each hearing. Each speaker was allowed to speak only 10 minutes, with no question and answer sessions. Besides the speakers, an additional 100 to 200 people, also chosen by lot, were allowed to attend the hearings. But they had to submit their opinions in writing.

The selection of the hearing sites — Saitama, Sendai, Nagoya, Sapporo, Osaka, Toyama, Hiroshima, Naha, Fukushima, Takamatsu and Fukuoka — also makes one suspect that the government has an agenda. All the cities except Fukushima are the sites of regional bureaus of the trade and industry ministry, which promotes nuclear power generation. Except for Saitama, Fukushima and Naha, the remaining cities are the locations of head offices of power companies. In addition, hearings will not be held in municipalities hosting nuclear power plants. Municipalities in Aomori Prefecture, where an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and a factory to reprocess spent nuclear fuel are located, are also excluded.

The scenarios presented are dubious as well. They were written with bureaucrats exerting influence, on the basis of discussions by a council whose members were chosen by bureaucrats.

Furthermore, the scenario of supplying 20 to 25 percent of Japan’s electricity through nuclear power requires building new nuclear power plants since 30 of Japan’s 50 nuclear power plants will be 40 years old or older by 2030. Because the government has the goal of “getting out of reliance on nuclear power” and a majority of people are calling for reducing and eventually ending nuclear power, presenting an option that requires the building of new nuclear power plants is inappropriate.

Another problem is that the government is not presenting hearing participants with a clear policy on the nuclear fuel cycle.

After power company employees were booed for speaking at the hearings in Sendai and Nagoya, the government decided to refrain from allowing power company employees to speak and to increase the number of speakers from the current nine to 12. But this change is purely cosmetic. People should closely watch the government to ensure that it does not use the hearings as an excuse to scrap the policy of ending Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.

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