Nuclear power in Japan – Quo vadis?
Two years after Fukushima, Japanese society is engulfed in dispute about the future of nuclear power in the country. An international congress held in Tokyo and Fukushima, hosted by a broad coalition of NGOs, invited contributions by numerous international experts. An Öko-Institut staff member was among them.
Dr. Christoph Pistner of the Oeko-Institut’s Nuclear Engineering & Facility Safety Division took part in the session on the reform of nuclear regulatory systems. He presented the development of the use of nuclear power in Germany and its enshrinement in statutory, fiscal and administrative structures, and the way the public is involved in the regulatory process. Pistner left no doubt that, even if the regulatory system as such is optimal, there is no such thing as absolute safety of nuclear power plants. “It is important to make it mandatory that nuclear facilities have the highest possible safety status. At the same time, however, there must be clarity about the residual risks. Only then can a society decide whether it wishes to bear those risks or not. If, as in Germany, the residual risks are considered to be no longer tolerable, then this means that nuclear power is phased out”, the scientist said.
A majority for nuclear phase-out in Japan?
At the same time as the Nuclear Free Now congress, the first post-Fukushima elections were held. These returned the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power. In parallel, however, polls reveal that a strong majority of the Japanese population views nuclear power critically since the Fukushima accident. What this means is that the question of nuclear phase-out was not the most important issue to the Japanese public and therefore did not decide the elections.
It is to be hoped that the intense discussions do not become as protracted as they were in Germany. Several reasons suggest that this will indeed not be the case: the setting, notably the experience of disaster, is quite different; the opportunities to exchange information are far better; and the alternatives offered by renewable energy sources are much more mature than they were in the Germany of the 1970s to 1990s. The congress was an important milestone on the road forwards. It greatly improved public awareness of the most varied issues – from nuclear regulatory structures to energy system transformation.
www.streitpunkt-kernenergie.de website maintained by the Öko-Institut (in German)
“Kernenergie – Eine Technik für die Zukunft?” Publication in the “Technik im Fokus” series of Springer-Verlag: Verlag Springer Viehweg, EUR 16.95, ISBN 978-3-642-24328-8 (in German).
Dr. Christoph Pistner
Nuclear Engineering & Facility Safety
Oeko-Institut, Darmstadt office