“Japan should embrace nuclear power as an ‘important and fundamental’ energy source” – this is the advice given by a government panel on Friday to the Japanese central government. This idea is almost certain to be accepted by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite the widespread anti-nuclear sentiment after the Fukushima disaster. Abe is keen on restarting Japan’s idled nuclear reactors to cut the cost of fossil fuel imports used by power stations, which have swelled the trade deficit to a record and driven up electricity prices.
“Nuclear energy is an important and fundamental base energy source that will support the stability of energy demand and supply,” the panel wrote in its report, adding that securing safety was paramount in utilizing atomic power. There was no recommendation on the proportion of energy that should come from nuclear power. The panel is headed by Akio Mimura, honorary chairman of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp, Japan’s largest steel maker and one of its heaviest electricity users. The panel also said Japan should publicize information on safety measures taken after the disaster, its new regulatory standards and the economics of nuclear power. If this recommendation is adopted, it will put atomic power back as one of Japan’s primary energy sources after the previous government decided to abandon it following triple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The nuclear industry is one of those that are very close to the current administration, and Abe has been trying to find ways to bring back nuclear energy into relevance. But the opposition to atomic energy remains high and all of Japan’s political parties, including the New Komeito – coalition partner of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Anti-nuclear sentiment is also very much present in the general public, even though before the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power provided about 30 percent of electricity.