Photo/IllutrationHiroaki Nakanishi, center, chairman of Keidanren, visits Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, in February. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) on April 8 released a set of proposals concerning the nation’s power generation policy.

The proposals cover a broad range of issues, and we agree with Keidanren on such points as improving the power grid to expand the use of renewable energy and promoting investments in aging power plants.

But its stance on nuclear power raises many questions.

Keidanren positioned nuclear power as an “indispensable energy source” to advance decarbonization. It called on the government to consider substantial extension of operating periods for nuclear plants and spell out policy to build new plants and expand existing ones.

But Keidanren should recognize the fact that nuclear power is facing increasing headwinds both at home and abroad. In polls, public opinion has shifted overwhelmingly against nuclear power ever since the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident.

Contrary to years of assertions by the government and the power industry of the economic efficiency of nuclear power, the rising safety costs are proving otherwise. As well, next to no progress is being made in the selection of sites for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste.

Keidanren’s proposals are short on specific solutions to these problems. In the absence of a clear action plan, any argument in favor of nuclear power lacks conviction.

Keidanren also revealed its inconsistency. It strongly criticized the reliance on thermal power generation, which uses fossil fuel, for 80 percent of the nation’s power needs to justify the promotion of nuclear power. But it practically turned a blind eye to coal-fired power generation, which emits substantial greenhouse gases.

Combined with its opposition to carbon pricing, including the carbon tax, Keidanren appears to be preoccupied only with immediate gains on the issue of global warming.

Also notable was its statement that “the entire society must consider power generation as its own problem, and this calls for a national debate.” This is true in itself, but comes across as contradictory in light of Keidanren’s actual behavior.

Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren, has bemoaned “inadequate discussions” in reference to the failure of nuclear power to obtain wider public support and called for discussions involving broad segments of society.

However, when a civic organization advocating a policy of ending nuclear power and promoting renewable energy requested a public forum, Nakanishi turned it down, saying, “There is no point in holding discussions with people who are emotionally opposed (to nuclear power).”

The energy issue is complex and entails many divisive points. Especially where nuclear power is concerned, both the pro and con forces tend to only preach to the choir, rendering any deepening of constructive policy discussion difficult.

If Keidanren wants to break this impasse, it must face opposition squarely and strive for dialogue with a broad range of experts and citizens. Nakanishi, who is also chairman of Hitachi Ltd., which is involved in the business of nuclear power, is just the man who should be leading these efforts.

Open discussions help to identify specific issues of contention and bring out the strengths and weaknesses of arguments presented by both sides. This should become the first step toward working on and refining solutions that will be acceptable to society at large.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 10