These days it seems there are many reasons to think about nuclear energy. On March 29, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida welcomed students participating in the Fukushima Hamadori High School Summit in his official quarters. They were there to learn about issues related to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, including decommissioning nuclear reactors, the release of treated water into the ocean.
“We want to see basic information about nuclear power plants and treated wastewater included in the compulsory education curriculum,” said Haruki Machida. He is a second-year student from Iwaki Sakuragaoka High School in Fukushima Prefecture.
“That is something I would love to consider, so let me think about what we can do specifically,” replied the Prime Minister.
The proposal brought by the students also read, “Simply disclosing information is not the same as disseminating the information.” Hopefully the Prime Minister takes this thought and puts it into action.
If the public is given an opportunity for a deeper understanding of the matter, they will ignore the five ex-prime ministers, including Naoto Kan and Junichiro Koizumi, who made false claims to the European Parliament such as, “Children [in Fukushima] are suffering from thyroid cancer [because of the nuclear plant accident].” Damage stemming from misinformation, such as NHK calling treated wastewater “polluted water,” would not spread as widely, either.
One excerpt from the students’ proposal reads:
Shifting responsibilities, saying that the fault lies completely with Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. or with the government and its national policies, will not solve any problems.
That is a rational point. Even high school history textbooks have clearly described the issues with Kan’s Cabinet, which was in power at the time, as “ineptitude in the earthquake response.” The history of that moment in time has been abundantly verified and should be remembered.
However, it is pointless to keep debating on and on about whose fault it was. What matters is what we are going to do about the issues going forward.
Just a few days before the students met the Prime Minister, on March 22, some of the thermal power plants in the region were brought to a halt following a moderate earthquake off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. At the same time, temperatures across Japan plummeted.
The government issued its first-ever power shortage alert within the jurisdictions of TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power, and Minister of Economy Koichi Hagiuda called for households and companies to save electricity.
“It is unfortunate,” said Hagiuda, “but the moment when we will need to implement rolling blackouts to avoid a large-scale blackout is drawing closer.”
Fortunately, the worst did not happen, thanks to the cooperation of citizens and businesses, and other electricity companies which lent power to TEPCO. But it was a close call. What would have happened had we been in the middle of winter, when cold days are the norm?
Moreover, Japan also needs to lower its dependence on Russian energy. After all, Russia has invaded Ukraine and declared Japan an unfriendly country. At the same time, it is clear that renewable energies, whose availability is easily swayed by the weather, have their limits.
After all, there is no choice but to restart the nuclear power plants that are currently inactive, such as the TEPCO Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture.
According to a Nikkei Shimbun opinion poll published in March, interviewees who thought that nuclear plants should be restarted (53%) exceeded by 15 points those who thought they should not be restarted (38%). The result is reversed from a poll published in September 2021 by the same newspaper, where only 44% supported restarting and 46% opposed. It seems that public awareness is changing and the debate is becoming more rational.
In a March 25 interview with former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, excerpts of which were published in this newspaper, he talked about restarting nuclear plants. He noted: “I think we realized once again how important nuclear energy is as a baseload power source. From the point their safety is confirmed, the plants should be restarted.”
Regarding the restart, Minister Hagiuda said, “The government will stand at the forefront so that [the restart] can proceed smoothly.” However, it appears that the ruling coalition is attempting to postpone policies that might cause discord until after the upper house election in the summer.
Nevertheless, acquiring energy is a pressing matter of life and death for the people of Japan. This is no time to be slow and deliberate.
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(Read the article in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Rui Abiru, Editorial Writer and Editor at the Political Desk