Kan: Japan must reduce reliance on nuclear; Report urges checks for US reactors

Updated On: Jul 13, 2011

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has pledged to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.

"We must scrap the plan to have nuclear power contribute 53 percent (of electricity supply) by 2030 and reduce the degree of reliance on nuclear power," Kan told the panel.

Instead, Japan will now pursue a blank-slate review of energy policy and set a goal of boosting renewable energy sources' share to more than 20 percent of electricity by the 2020s.

A 2010 basic energy plan had called for boosting nuclear energy's share of Japan's electricity supply by building at least 14 new reactors, but many politicians agree that is nearly impossible now given growing public anxiety.

The crisis at Fukushima has also prompted discussions about whether to reform the way Japan's nuclear power industry is run. Kan has called for debate on whether private companies should be allowed to manage nuclear plants.

"The question arises whether private companies can bear responsibility when considering the large risks involved with nuclear business," he told a government panel.

"Examples from other countries show that this has not always been the case. I agree with the suggestion that discussions (including on nationalization) are needed."

Report: Japan PM says must reduce dependence on nuclear power [Reuters, 12 July 2011]

Opinion polls in Japan show growing public concern about nuclear power. Kan himself is also highly unpopular, and is under heavy pressure from opposition parties as well as his own party to step down.

Kan has hinted he will only bow out only after key bills on reconstruction and promoting renewable energy are passed. But the opposition has threatened to block the bills until Kan leaves.

According to a new poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Kan's approval rating has plunged to 15 percent, the lowest since his party took power in 2009. 70 percent of voters want Kan to resign before parliament enters a recess late next month.

Report: Support for Japan PM at record-low 15 percent [AFP, 12 July 2011]

Yesterday, Kan also defended his decision to introduce two-stage stress tests for reactors to soothe public safety concerns, but apologized for any confusion caused.

The announcement of safety checks was intended to bolster confidence that nuclear power in Japan is safe. But it had the unintended effect of suggesting a lack of consensus within the government. Previously, authorities had been giving assurances that nuclear plants around the country were already safe to restart.

Japan now plans two phases of safety checks to ensure plants can withstand natural disasters. The first phase will test plants currently offline for routine maintenance, while the second phase will involve plants that are currently operational.

Japan faces the prospect of power shortages if idle reactors remain off-line. Currently, only 19 of the country's 54 nuclear reactors are producing power. The rest have either been shut down due to safety concerns after Fukushima or for routine maintenance, and still more are expected to go offline for repairs in coming months.

The summer is a peak power usage season for Japan. The country is currently in the grip of a heat wave, and given the nation's energy concerns, many Japanese are reluctant to use air-conditioning. Around Japan, nearly 7000 people were hospitalised for heatstroke last month, three times more than the same period last year.

Analysis: With Power Shortage Looming, Japan Hustles to Prove Nuclear Reactors Are Safe[TIME, 12 July 2011]

Meanwhile, Japan's Kyushu Electric Company is facing a widening scandal. Last week, it emerged that workers from the company posed as citizens and lobbied for a power plant to be reopened. They sent e-mails to a televised debate backing a plan to restart Kyushu's Genkai plant.

An internal inquiry by the firm has discovered that more than 100 employees may have been involved, far more than was initially thought. Japan's national public broadcaster NHK said messages from Kyushu employees accounted for more than 30% of all messages sent in support of the Genkai plant being reopened.

Report: Widening scandal at Japan's Kyushu nuclear firm [BBC News, 12 July 2011]

Over in the United States, a US Federal Task Force has urged American nuclear power plant operators to re-evaluate their safety systems in the wake of Fukushima.

According to a new report by experts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the government should order plant operators to ensure their sites are safe from seismic and flooding hazards. If necessary, operators must update their structures and systems. The experts' recommendations will be discussed by regulators next week.

Report: U.S. Nuclear Plants Urged to Re-Evaluate Safety Systems [Wall Street Journal, 12 July 2011]

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