Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Series "What's brewing in post-3/11 Japan?" No.4: Calling for a Truly Realistic Debate on Nuclear Energy
CHINO Keiko  / Journalist on International Affairs

October 12, 2011
Judging from Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's speech at the United Nations meeting on nuclear safety in New York, the Japanese government has apparently reverted to a pro-nuclear power policy. Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto's policy of abandoning nuclear power was all too abrupt and haphazard, and it was clearly a matter of time until it was discarded. Yet the manner in which the shift in policy was made, with no debate whatsoever as if it was a foregone conclusion, reflects the degraded state of today's politics.

Prime Minister Noda's speech was on the whole reasonable. Speedy and accurate disclosure regarding the nuclear accident and raising the safety of nuclear power to the world's highest standards are commendable - provided they are put to practice. It will be up to the Prime Minister to fulfill his responsibility to the country and the entire world by keeping his public pledge.

Meanwhile, the rift between the proponents and opponents of nuclear power that became even more pronounced since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains unresolved. Around the same time the Prime Minister was giving his speech to the United Nations, a massive anti-nuclear rally was taking place in Tokyo. It is unfortunate that this national issue is carving an ever deeper division within our society.

Coincidentally, the committee for formulating the government's Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy reconvened for the first time in half a year. Soon, a committee to discuss fundamental revisions to the Basic Energy Plan was also launched. This time around, it is noteworthy that both committees will include members with critical or skeptical views on nuclear energy as participants. This is an excellent development.

However, the latter committee will have no representatives from the energy industry. Wait a minute. This only means the table has been turned against the past committee, which had been accused of being slanted towards the pro-nuclear lobby. It makes no difference to the substance of the issue. In our post-Fukushima days, it is more important than ever to hear the views of the electric power industry that is directly responsible for operating nuclear power plants. Many questions need to be addressed, such as the safety awareness and risk management of these companies.

All too often, past debate over nuclear power has been an exchange of self-justifying claims by the pros and cons, with little incentive for seeking a consensus. The result was a self-satisfactory, one-way discussion, which forced most Japanese to feign indifference or become bystanders. That was the reality of the situation.

We need to get both the proponents and opponents to discard their respective myths about the safety or dangers of nuclear power, to clear the way for an entirely realistic debate aimed at building a consensus for developing a new policy.

I am particularly keen to see the proponents of nuclear power take this course, because even if we chose to abandon nuclear energy, it would take a gradual process to achieve such a goal. In other words, we would still need to keep the reactors in operation for years to come. Germany, which has decided to abandon nuclear power, plans to do so by 2022, and Switzerland – with only four reactors – is following a gradual shutdown plan that will not be completed until 2034. The proponents of nuclear power therefore carry a more practical, yet serious, responsibility on their shoulders.

Though the pretext may be peaceful use, the essence of nuclear power generation is the same as a nuclear weapon. If a nuclear bomb is a weapon that cannot be deployed due to the immensity of the destruction it causes, nuclear power is a form of power generation that should never go wrong. What happens in an accident? The answer is "Fukushima."

A tsunami expert who spoke recently at the Atomic Energy Society of Japan strongly criticized the indiscriminate use of the term "beyond anticipation" in the immediate aftermath of the accident. He emphasized the need for "imagination" instead. His words ring true. In some ways, accidents are always "beyond anticipation." We are being tested for our imagination.

In retrospect, since 3/11 - or 9/11, rather - bipolar confrontation has became prominent in the world. You were either for terrorism or against, for keeping the U.S. bases in Japan or against, enemy or ally, winner or loser. This mentality is now spreading from the political arena to society at large, and to everything around us.

Let us make the best use of our imagination and put an end to this binary mindset of "either-or." The truth may not be either this or that, but lie quietly in between.

Writer is Columnist at the Sankei Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

「3.11後の日本」シリーズ No.4 原発の議論に徹底したリアリズムを
千野境子 / ジャーナリスト

2011年 10月 12日











一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Series "What's brewing in post-3/11 Japan?" No.4: Calling for a Truly Realistic Debate on Nuclear Energy