In what amounts to a direct challenge to the Abe administration, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has drafted a bill to phase out nuclear power generation.

The proposal deserves serious consideration by the Diet and should serve as a platform to review the government’s frayed energy policy.

The CDP plans to submit the bill to the Diet in March after rallying support from other opposition parties.

The central provision would require the government to pursue a policy goal of shutting down all nuclear reactors in Japan within five years after the legislation takes effect.

It proposes an ambitious goal for expanding the use of renewable energy sources, cast as the principal ingredient of the strategy, that far exceeds the target set by the government.

The CDP’s bill is a full frontal challenge to the energy policy adopted by the Abe administration and the ruling camp, which views atomic energy as a vital core power source.

Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese public has shown profound distrust in the government’s energy policy. Opinion polls have repeatedly shown a majority are opposed to restarting offline nuclear reactors.

While working on the bill, the CDP held meetings with citizens across Japan to hear their concerns about nuclear power.

The party’s move has also been prompted by a powerful global energy trend: the decline of nuclear power and rapid rise of renewable energy.

While many of the elements of the bill make good sense, certain provisions concerning the time frame and process of pursuing the policy goal raise issues that need more careful consideration.

Terminating nuclear power generation within only five years would cause some “side effects.” Japan’s carbon dioxide emissions will remain at high levels, for instance, due to expanded use of thermal power generation by burning fossil fuels. Growth of renewable power generation could lead to increases in electricity charges.

The CDP’s bill doesn’t make clear how to tackle these problems, which need to be overcome to push forward without nuclear power.

The party needs to bolster the feasibility of its energy policy proposal by devising specific and convincing steps to deal with these challenges.

The Abe administration is currently working on a new “basic energy plan,” a legally mandated medium- to long-term energy policy blueprint.

The advisory council tasked with the work has indicated that the administration intends to maintain its basic energy policy stance, which stresses the importance of making active use of nuclear and coal-burning thermal power generation.

There has been no in-depth policy debate on key challenges facing the nuclear power policy, such as how to dispose of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants and the dismal outlook of the nuclear fuel recycling program. Government policymakers and advisers have also failed to consider seriously how much growth of renewable power generation we can realistically expect.

The Diet, which is composed of elected representatives of the people, has a responsibility to exert pressure on the reluctant government into responding to radical changes in the energy situation.

Even though it has an overwhelming majority in both houses of the Diet, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito should not be allowed to let the CDP’s energy bill wither on the vine.

The government’s decisions concerning which energy sources should be used in what way directly affect people’s lives and that of society.

The submission of the bill should trigger serious and constructive debate between the ruling and opposition camps to lay out a new vision for the nation’s energy future and a road map to realize it.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 24