EDITORIAL: LDP candidates’ debate on nuclear energy must be based on realities
Japan’s nuclear policy has become one of the main issues in the leadership race of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The four presidential candidates on September 29 are expected to learn from the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant ten years ago and offer in-depth discussions on key issues.
Taro Kono, the Minister of Administrative Reform who has also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense in the past, is the only candidate to have clearly advocated for the phasing out of nuclear power production.
Kono said Japan should end its nuclear fuel recycling program “as soon as possible” while promising to allow reactors to restart offline when they are officially approved as safe, for now.
The other three politicians seeking to succeed incumbent Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have pledged to maintain the current policy of keeping nuclear reactors running. In a recent debate, they expressed skepticism about Kono’s wish to end the fuel recycling program.
Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister and PLD policy chief, questioned the consistency between Kono’s stance on fuel recycling and its reactor commissioning policy.
Seiko Noda, acting executive secretary general of the LDP, has ruled out any energy policy changes that could disrupt the stable supply of electricity. Sanae Takaichi, former Minister of Communications, said she would promote the development of small reactors and nuclear fusion reactor technology.
The nuclear fuel recycling process involves recovering plutonium from spent nuclear fuel for recycling into new fuel.
But Japan’s initial plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to obtain starter plutonium for a new generation of plutonium “breeder” reactors failed when its prototype Monju breeder reactor, which was supposed to be the core technology of the program, has been closed. after sodium leak and fire.
The government then moved to a strategy of converting spent plutonium, formed in nuclear reactors as a by-product of the combustion of uranium fuel, and uranium into a “mixed oxide” (MOX) which can be reused in existing reactors to generate more electricity.
But this approach has also encountered a problem as the number of reactors in operation has fallen sharply since the Fukushima merger.
Asahi Shimbun’s editorials argued that the government should admit that the fuel recycling program is no longer viable and end it. Certainly, withdrawing from the program would mean that spent nuclear fuel must be disposed of as waste. But Japan would only make the world uncomfortable if it kept a massive stockpile of usable plutonium as a weapon with no plans to use it.
Arguments about nuclear policy issues in general, and not just fuel recycling, tend to ignore reality. The most important fact about the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima plant is that it caused enormous damage to the company.
Little is known about the current conditions of the reactors whose hearts melted during the accident. It is impossible to predict when and how the plant decommissioning process will end.
LDP presidential candidates are divided over whether to build new nuclear power plants or expand existing ones. But it is evident that gaining the support of the general public and the local communities involved for such plans would be nearly impossible.
It is also not known when the small reactor and nuclear fusion reactor that are under development will enter commercial use.
A new estimate from the Ministry of Industry on the future costs of power generation released in August predicts that solar power will eclipse nuclear power in terms of costs from 2030. It is hardly surprising that the The government’s draft new basic energy plan, unveiled in July, asserts that promoting renewable energy sources should be the top priority of energy policy.
Since the Fukushima disaster, the government has sought to restart offline reactors one by one while leaving the decisions to the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. But the government should not hesitate to thoroughly review its failing nuclear energy policy.
The candidates for the presidency of the LDP have to answer many difficult questions. How would they attempt to change the country’s current energy mix in what ways and in what time frame while maintaining a stable power supply? What would they do with the increasing amount of spent nuclear fuel?
The election of the PLD forces them to clarify their approaches to tackle these difficult challenges.
–L’Asahi Shimbun, September 24