JAPAN | EDITORIAL: Energy debate requires objective data

Posted on July 31, 2011


JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 31 July 2011

The government on Friday released an interim report on its overhaul of Japan’s energy policy, initiated in response to the devastating accident at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant.

The new strategy will aim to make Japan less dependent on nuclear power, the government said. A road map toward that goal will be produced, prescribing steps to be taken until 2050.

According to the report, the government will also scrutinize the current policy of creating a nuclear fuel cycle, revisit electric utilities’ monopolies over regional power markets and consider a proposal to separate power transmission from generation.

As the nuclear disaster has made it effectively impossible to build new nuclear power facilities, there was an urgent need for the government to define a new direction for its energy strategy. Unless it lays out a clear direction for energy policy, individual consumers and businesses will be unsure how to act. From this point of view, it is important to flesh out the nuclear-free vision presented by Prime Minister Naoto Kan as his “personal view” into a more specific and realistic Cabinet policy.

We are eager to see healthy, thorough debate of the new energy policy. This important initiative should not be watered down through haphazard policy changes or maneuverings driven by short-term political expediency.

It has emerged that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which regulates the nuclear power industry, asked power utilities to “stage manage” symposiums on nuclear power. This is outrageous. NISA must be an effective and credible watchdog. No one should stand in the way of swiftly making the agency independent of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is a champion of nuclear energy.

There is a variety of opinion on renewable energy and phasing out nuclear power, and it is vital that the government gives reliable and objective data to inform debate on these issues.

Current government data on the cost of nuclear power generation, the unit price of renewable energy and the overall power generation capacity of each energy source is unreliable. These statistics are either too old or have actually come directly from electric power companies without any checking by an independent body.

Outside government, people are making arguments using data shaped to support their cases. The shortage of reliable and objective data is muddling debate.

The interim report envisages a new government committee tasked with making fresh estimates of the costs of nuclear power generation, which will include the costs of decommissioning reactors and paying compensation to victims of accidents. The committee will also make new estimates of the costs of renewable power generation, which tend to change with technological progress.

We urge the government to make sure that the formulas, raw data and other information used to make the estimates are disclosed. If that information is not revealed, there will be considerable public distrust of the figures, and that will make constructive, cool-headed debate impossible.

All this information should be published on a government website giving free access to experts and other concerned people in Japan and overseas.

Policy debate should be based on data that can be checked by a third party. This is a prerequisite for building a national consensus on Japan’s future energy strategy.

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