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Sunday, June 19, 2011

READERS IN COUNCIL

Backing a methodical phaseout


Tokyo

Michael Hoffman's columns are always a great read, but his June 6 article, "What will Japan learn from the Fukushima meltdowns," is clearly one of his weaker ones.

Hoffman presents three arguments against the abolition of nuclear power. The first is that abolition of nuclear power could mean "shrinking the economy" and that few seem to take this seriously due to society's dependence on technology.

True, the loss of nuclear energy would involve sacrifice, but does the nation really need one vending machine for every 55 people? Or the current neon sign clutter? Or air conditioning cold enough to make people wear jackets indoors in the summer?

Japan has plenty of room to conserve and cut power consumption before we talk about cutting to the bone. Just look at the present situation: Less than half of Japan's nuclear reactors are currently operating and the nation has not ground to a halt. It is perfectly reasonable to consider a methodical phaseout over time that would minimize the impact on the economy.

Furthermore, while "technology" is all well and good, at the end of the day, one can still live with less of it. One cannot live with poisoned food, water and air. It's a sad sign of the times we live in that one has to state the obvious.

Second, while I agree with Hoffman's concerns over an increase in fossil-fuel generation, he brings up the old canard about how many miners die in coal mines each year, which the nuclear cheerleaders often cite to show how much "safer" nuclear is. In China alone, for example, 22 miners die every week.

This lack of regulation and disregard for safety makes one wonder what will happen when it is applied to nuclear power. The answer, of course, has already been given by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Finally, Hoffman suggests that a switch to renewable energy is a "pie in the sky" and mentions the aesthetic drawbacks of a landscape of windmills and solar panels. Aesthetics are a moot point when the alternative is a technology that forces mass evacuations of entire regions, and creates uninhabitable zones for decades to come. It's worth noting that the few wind turbines in the Tohoku-Pacific region survived the March 11 earthquake intact, with no serious consequences for residents.

Surely if renewables were given anything resembling the subsidies lavished on the nuclear industry, their development and efficiency would increase steadily. Of course, the Japanese media, addicted to the subsidies they receive from Tepco's "advertising" budget, will not address this issue, which may explain the uniformity of opinion in the journals that Hoffman cites.

Hoffman also states that "Opinion polls worldwide show faith in nuclear power largely unshaken by Fukushima." I don't know whom he's citing, but an Asahi Shimbun poll released just last week showed 74 percent of the Japanese surveyed in favor of phasing out nuclear power. Meanwhile, 94 percent of Italy's electorate voted to continue a moratorium on nuclear energy.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.


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