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Monday, March 3, 2003

Gathering concludes that nuclear power is essential to Japan


Staff writer

OSAKA -- The central government and the prefectures of Fukui, Aomori, and Osaka reaffirmed Sunday that nuclear power remains a vital part of the best possible energy mix for Japan.

At a gathering on energy issues organized by the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy, they agreed that the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture remains an important part of Japan's overall nuclear power strategy.

Speaking at the meeting were Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry; Osaka Gov. Fusae Ohta; Fukui Gov. Yukio Kurita; and Aomori Vice Gov. Masayoshi Yamaguchi, as well as a panel of pro-nuclear nongovernmental organizations and journalists. The main topic was Japan's current energy situation and future energy needs.

"Japan can only supply 4 percent of its total energy needs, mostly through domestic coal and gas sources. Nuclear power now supplies about 13 percent of Japan's energy needs," Hiranuma said. "Economically and environmentally, nuclear power will remain an important part of the best mix of energy resources for Japan in the years to come."

Ohta stressed that nuclear power was especially important for the Kansai region. "Nationally, nuclear power provides an average of one-third of Japan's total electric power. But for Kansai, nuclear power provides 54 percent of our total electricity needs," she said.

Much of Kansai's electric power comes from nuclear power plants in Fukui Prefecture, where the Monju fast-breeder reactor, which has been shut down since a 1995 sodium leak, is located.

In January, a Nagoya High Court supported plaintiffs' claims blaming the leak on shortcomings in pre-construction safety assessments. The ruling has been appealed.

"The Monju ruling was disappointing. But it is very important that the government ensure the safety of nuclear power," Kurita said.

Fukui University President Shimpei Kojima added, "The court did not understand the technical arguments in favor of Monju's safety, and the ruling will give it a negative image in the public's mind." Kojima served on a government-appointed safety assessment committee that concluded Monju had made adequate safety improvements after the 1995 accident, a conclusion rejected by the high court.

Many among the estimated 1,200 people in attendance, who were selected by lottery, seemed to favor nuclear power. Some, however, were disappointed in the meeting itself.

"The panelists just kept repeating that 'nuclear power is necessary for cost and environmental reasons.' I favor nuclear power, but it would have been more persuasive had they invited antinuclear experts to share their views in a real debate," said Junichi Sugihara, a retired Osaka Gas Co. employee.



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