JAPAN | Lessen reliance on nuclear power, ex-adviser to Kan says

Posted on July 6, 2011


photoSumio Mabuchi

Japan should lower its dependence on nuclear power generation, rather than scrapping it altogether, said Sumio Mabuchi, former special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“It is not in Japan’s best interest to give up a certain energy source voluntarily because the country has limited resources,” Mabuchi told The Asahi Shimbun in a recent interview.

“The Japanese economy would run out of steam the moment supplies of electricity generated by nuclear power are suspended.”

Mabuchi, a Lower House member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, served as special adviser to the prime minister until late June.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

* * *

Question: What did you focus on while you were a special adviser on the nuclear accident?

Answer: When hydrogen explosions occurred at nuclear reactor buildings, dust containing radioactive materials spread throughout the plant premises. We first dispersed anti-scattering agents because high levels of radioactivity were detected in some areas.

We covered buildings with special sheets, decontaminated the inside air with filters and released the clean air to the outside. I tried to shield the plant for about three months after I became the special adviser on March 26, and that included measures for ground water.

Q: You declined Kan’s offer to become the senior vice minister of economy, trade and industry. Why?

A: I told Kan, “I cannot accept the post.” My mission as special adviser was to put an end to the nuclear accident. If I become the senior vice minister, it means that I approve the judgments that have been made on the ministry’s policies. Many people are still concerned about the safety declaration that the industry ministry issued regarding the restarts of nuclear power plants. I cannot take up the post that supports that ministry.

Q: Kan said the government will approve the restarts when safety is confirmed. What do you think?

A: No one takes hollow words seriously even though Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency repeatedly say nuclear power plants are safe. What is necessary is to present safety standards that are satisfactory to the public as soon as possible.

I was told by officials at TEPCO and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency that meltdowns did not occur at the nuclear power reactors. I later learned that meltdowns did occur from their explanations at news conferences. It cannot be helped if they are criticized as having a deep-rooted tendency to conceal information.

Q: Why do they hide information?

A: They say they cannot comment on uncertain things because that will prompt fears. But holding back information will make people anxious and could cause panic.

Q: Didn’t the government have its own problems?

A: It is true that the chain of command experienced confusion. A framework was not established in which politicians issue instructions by making clear responsibility and authority based on law. If politicians issue instructions without following these procedures, it is a mistake to say they are taking the initiative.

Q: How should Japan change its energy policy?

A: It is important to lessen dependence on nuclear power generation, not scrapping it abruptly.

It would require substantial efforts to raise the percentage of renewable energy to 20 percent. While improving combustion efficiency of fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal, we should come up with a combination of several energy sources, such as fossil fuels, renewable energy and nuclear power after verifying the cause of the nuclear accident.

Q: Kan said the energy policy will be a major issue in the next election. What is your opinion?

A: This is no time for an election, given the efforts needed to rebuild from the Great East Japan Earthquake and respond to the nuclear accident.

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