June 2, 2023 at 12:10 JST
Upper House members attend a plenary meeting on May 31 where a bill was enacted to allow nuclear reactors to operate beyond 60 years. (Koichi Ueda)
It appears that the lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster have been taken so lightly.
The government and a majority of the Diet are heavily responsible for pushing through a reversal of the nation's nuclear policies without careful deliberation, shifting from a "reduction of dependence" on nuclear power and heading to its "maximum utilization."
We must keep asking ourselves whether we can solve the many difficult problems plaguing nuclear power plants and whether they could end up haunting future generations.
This week, a bill related to promoting nuclear plants was passed by the Diet.
The government's responsibilities and measures aimed at the active utilization are stipulated in the Atomic Energy Basic Law.
The new law also relaxed restrictions on nuclear reactors' operational periods introduced after the catastrophic disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, opening a path to allowing reactors to operate beyond 60 years if certain conditions are met.
The Asahi Shimbun in its editorials has opposed the bill and called for its reconsideration.
That is because nuclear plants are plagued with a mountain of issues such as the ever-growing nuclear waste and Japan's nuclear fuel cycle that has reached an impasse, not to mention safety and economic concerns.
And it is unacceptable for the government to reverse its stance to restarting nuclear plants without showing a path to solving the problems.
Now is the time to speed up reforms to make renewable energy a primary power source from the standpoint of the overall energy policy.
Returning to dependence on nuclear plants could lead to going down the wrong path.
The bill was also rushed along as the government adopted the new policy last year after only several months of debate.
The Diet was supposed to do everything in its power to scrutinize the bill from multiple perspectives, but no deep discussions ensued.
We can't help but be disappointed.
Reasons cited for the about-face were the need for a stable supply of energy and the decarbonization of energy sources.
But how much of a role do nuclear plants actually play in these goals? And why is it necessary to treat them differently?
The government shied away from answering these questions head-on and repeatedly said it was important to pursue all possible options, including nuclear energy.
With several bills covering a variety of issues bundled into the legislation, discussions on concrete measures also wandered off-track.
It had been explained that the limit on the reactors' operational periods was originally intended to reduce safety risks.
But the government claimed that it decided from the standpoint of the nation's energy strategy, instead of safety regulations.
Although it was a major shift, the government failed to provide convincing explanations.
After all, numerous questions, including fundamental problems, were left unanswered.
If this stance continues, it will be inevitable for the government to single-mindedly devote itself to the promotion of its new polices on nuclear plants.
The latest policy shift was led by the economy ministry, seriously undermining the principle of separation between "promotion and regulation," which is the heart of the nuclear policy introduced in light of the Fukushima disaster.
The government seems set to support the restart of nuclear plants and construction of new ones.
However, at the very least, safety procedures and economic benefits of nuclear plants must be thoroughly considered.
And, no matter how many efforts are made, inconvenient realities about nuclear plants won't disappear.
The government and party members who voted for the bill must keep firmly in mind that they will have to face these realities sooner or later.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 2
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