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Friday, Dec. 7, 2012

EDITORIAL

Addressing the nuclear power issue

The Dec. 16 Lower House election will be the first national-level election held since the 3/11 disasters, including the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. As if to show their concern over the plight of people whose lives have been disrupted by the nuclear catastrophe and to stress the importance of Japan's future policy on nuclear power generation, leaders of four parties gave their first campaign speeches in Fukushima Prefecture on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) spoke in Iwaki; Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Shinzo Abe, in Fukushima City; Nippon Mirai leader Yukiko Kada, in the village of Iitate; and Social Democratic Party chief Mizuho Fukushima, in Aizu Wakamatsu.

Because 160,000 local residents are still forced to live away from their homes due to radioactive contamination, Japan is quake-prone, nuclear waste storage facilities in Japan have little room to accept additional waste and technologies to allow the safe, permanent storage of high-level radioactive waste don't exist, attempts to bring a large number of nuclear reactors back online are likely to cause environmental and ethical problems. On the other hand, forces calling for the eventual abolition of nuclear power generation should realize that many technological and political hurdles must be overcome before they can achieve their goal. Above all, they must develop convincing proposals.

The LDP calls for checking the safety of all nuclear power plants over the next three years. Mr. Abe says that plants whose safety is confirmed should be brought online.

The Japan Restoration Party at one time said nuclear power generation would "fade out" by the end of the 2030s. But its deputy chief, Toru Hashimoto, now says that it is impossible to specify a timeline to end nuclear power generation, and blasts parties that specify such timelines. The Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party call for the immediate closure of all nuclear power plants. The DPJ, Komeito and Your Party call for eventually ending Japan's reliance on nuclear power.

Nippon Mirai has adopted as its party slogan "graduation from nuclear power" in 10 years and makes fairly concrete proposals, such as putting a cap on the total amount of spent nuclear fuel, constructing a dry storage facility to keep such fuel for 100 years, and dividing Tepco into three different entities: one to generate electricity, one to provide compensation for victims of the nuclear crisis and one to deal with decommissioning Fukushima No. 1.

Concrete ways to promote green energy and facilitate the entry of small power generation entities into the electricity market must be developed. But political parties calling for the end of nuclear power generation must also be prepared to adeptly deal with foreign countries that oppose such a move. For example, the United States opposes the stockpiling of plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel in Japan if there's no prospect of it being reused as fuel as a result of Japan halting its nuclear fuel cycle project.

Parties should not call for the abolition of nuclear power generation just to win votes. They must present realistic proposals.



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