10 Years after Accident, Govt should Consider Vision for Future of N-Power

Almost 10 years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the work to clean up after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is still ongoing. It is estimated that it will take 30 to 40 years to complete. The road to decommissioning is long.

Due to the nuclear accident and tsunami, more than 160,000 residents in Fukushima Prefecture were forced to evacuate at one point, and more than 30,000 are yet to return home. The zone designated as difficult to return covers a total of 337 square kilometers in seven municipalities.

The removal of the molten fuel has not progressed as expected due to high radiation levels that are preventing workers from gaining access. TEPCO has a responsibility to steadily proceed with the decommissioning of the plant in order to restore trust.

There are more than 1,000 tanks at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant site for storing contaminated water that has been treated. It is inevitable that the water will be released into the ocean, but fishermen and others concerned about damage to the reputation of marine products are opposed to this.

The government must carefully explain that the release of treated water into the ocean will have no impact on the environment or human health.

Before the earthquake, there were more than 50 nuclear reactors in Japan, but in the wake of the accident, it was decided that some of them would be decommissioned, especially the old ones. Of the 33 remaining reactors, only nine have been restarted.

The government has set a goal of increasing the rate of nuclear power generation to 20-22% of electricity demand by fiscal 2030, but it is far from certain that this will be achieved.

The government has also announced a policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to effectively zero by 2050. Even if the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power increases in the future, the advantages of nuclear power, which emits no carbon dioxide, are great. It also helps ensure a stable supply of electricity.

The safety review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which is a prerequisite for the restart of nuclear power plants, takes a long time. Shouldn’t the regulation authority, while listening to the opinions of the power companies, consider ways to both ensure safety and speed up the review process?

One of the reasons for the slow progress in restarting nuclear power plants is deep-rooted distrust and anxiety among the public. It is important for the government to deepen the debate on energy policy, including the future role of nuclear power, and clarify the direction it should take.

The disposal of high-level radioactive waste is an issue that cannot be avoided even if nuclear power plants are to be decommissioned. After a long stalemate, municipalities including the town of Suttsu in Hokkaido came forward last year to participate in the first stage of the survey for the construction of disposal sites, and the selection process has begun.

Nuclear power plant-related projects take decades to complete. Examining the project calmly in a relaxed environment is urged. It is important for the government to formulate a national strategy to respond to the global trend of decarbonization while steadily proceeding with disposal work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 5, 2021.