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

Japan Cannot Be Complacent! - More International Strategic Perspectives Are Needed in Japan's Nuclear Energy Policy Debates-
KANEKO Kumao / Professor at Tokai University

April 19, 2002
The new "Outline for Promoting Countermeasures Against Global Warming" adopted by the Japanese government in late March states that "in order to achieve the goal (of reducing CO2 emission according to the Kyoto Protocol), it is necessary to increase nuclear power by 30 percent from the level of 2000" and that for this purpose, 9 to 12 more nuclear reactors must be built within the next ten years. In light of declining public acceptance of nuclear power as a result of recurring accidents in recent years, however, Japan needs to overcome various problems pertaining to nuclear safety and the availability of sites willing to host nuclear power stations.

Many other thorny questions lie ahead. They include a series of technical issues related to the nuclear fuel cycle, such as the operation of the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant scheduled to be completed within a few years, the implementation of the "plutonium-thermal" program, the construction of a MOX fabrication plant and the interim storage of nuclear spent fuels.

Furthermore, an economic dimension has emerged recently, such as the competitiveness of nuclear energy against the growing tide of deregulation in electricity supply or the introduction of an "environment tax" or "fossil fuel tax".

However, these issues are all limited to the domestic level – in other words, they are arguments on this side of the shores, and one wonders whether arguments based on domestic perspectives alone do the subject justice. It is worrisome that the Japanese people have tended to look at problems and discuss related policies from an increasingly inward-looking stance. But in debating the issues of nuclear energy, we must expand our viewpoint to international and global levels, and to consider the situation on the other side of the shores in an objective and strategic manner. Having spent many years studying nuclear power, energy and the environment from the perspective of international politics and national security, I have become increasingly concerned about the current tendency in this country. Based on such a strategic viewpoint, I shall present several issues which, in my view, should be given greater attention by the Japanese people and government.

First, nuclear energy plays an "insurance" role against international crises. The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States last year raised concerns about a possible major energy crisis in the immediate aftermath. Similar concerns were also voiced during the recent Israeli-Palestinian disputes. While such concerns proved to be unwarranted for the moment, that offers no cause for complacency, since Japan now depends on the Middle East for 90% of its oil, reverting to levels before the first Oil Shock in 1973. It is in sharp contrast with U.S. dependency on the same region which is only about 15%.

For sure, Japan's dependency on oil, namely the ratio of oil in primary energy consumption, has fallen to 52% from 77% some 30 years ago, due to the advancement of energy saving technologies. In addition, we have an oil stockpile of up to about 160 days and international schemes for mutual assistance at times of emergency are well established. We will be able to withstand short-term stoppage of oil supply. Nevertheless, Japan cannot stay unaffected if such oil stoppage continues for an extended period. We must also be mindful of predictions that some Middle Eastern oil producing nations may see a collapse in their political system. One should not be surprised if anything worse should happen at any time in that volatile region.

Furthermore, the seeds of crisis extend beyond the Persian Gulf. In the Indian Ocean where India and Pakistan remain at loggerheads, the Malacca Straits where piracy proliferates, or the East China Sea where territorial disputes intensify, danger lies in numerous locations along the route taken by tankers bound for Japan. The Japanese are exceedingly off guard about such vulnerabilities that exist in maritime transport, but we should be more aware of the fact that nuclear power plays the role of "insurance" in the event of crises.

Second, we must bear in mind the value of nuclear power as a bargaining chip. As mentioned above, the degree of Japan's dependency on oil has significantly decreased in the past 30 years. But the actual volume of oil consumption/import has not fallen as much; the level of imported oil has hovered at around 4.5 to 4.7 million barrels a day for the past 15 years or so. Japan will still need to import a very large amount of oil from abroad in the future as well.

The international oil market is overwhelmingly dominated by the oil-producers, the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) and major oil companies. Under the circumstances, energy-poor but major oil-consumer Japan must use all available cards including diplomacy and official development assistance (ODA) to avoid disadvantageous price negotiations with oil producers and major oil companies. Nuclear energy is perhaps the only effective "card" a resource-poor country like Japan can play in the international energy market. This kind of thinking seems fatally lacking among ordinary Japanese citizens. And here lies another reason why we should retain nuclear power for our own energy security.

Lastly, I would like to point out that the development of technology for the peaceful use of nuclear energy bears special importance for Japan, a “non-nuclear-weapons State.” It seems that most of developed countries, except France and more recently the United States under the Bush administration, are phasing out their nuclear energy programs. But even those European countries are actually maintaining certain levels of their nuclear research and technology capabilities in anticipation for future needs.

Besides, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China, all categorized as "nuclear-weapon States" by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), can pursue necessary nuclear research and development within their military programs, even if they discontinue civil nuclear power programs. Whereas Japan, a declared "non-nuclear-weapon State," has no such option. If Japan phases out its commercial nuclear energy programs, it will irrevocably lag behind these countries in the area of development of nuclear technology.

I believe that Japan, more than any other country, has both the right and duty to continue its own civil nuclear development program because it is the only victim of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and has accepted stringent international inspection and safeguards against military diversion. It follows therefore that Japan must maintain and continue its nuclear power programs including its nuclear fuel-recycle plan at reasonable levels in anticipation of the day when fast breeder reactors become operational at some point during the 21st century.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a mental inertia in Japan about its need to address nuclear energy policies from an international and strategic angle. Nothing worries me more than this domestic situation. I am convinced that Japan must have the most acute international sense regarding nuclear energy issues, all the more because it is a non-nuclear-weapon State devoted solely to the peaceful application of nuclear energy.

The writer is Professor at Tokai University and concurrently President of the Japan Council on Energy, Environment and Security (CEES). He is a former career diplomat.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

金子熊夫 / 東海大学教授

2002年 4月 19日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan Cannot Be Complacent! - More International Strategic Perspectives Are Needed in Japan's Nuclear Energy Policy Debates-