September 18, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Nuclear plant support measures run counter to official policy
社説:原発の支援強化 脱依存政策に逆行する

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is considering boosting support for nuclear power plants as Japan moves toward full liberalization of its electricity retailing market.

Under the system eyed by the ministry, consumers would shoulder the huge costs of building and decommissioning reactors so that even if there were an electricity price war, power companies wouldn't go into the red. In essence, the system makes it easy to build and rebuild nuclear power plants and maintain them in the future.
But proposals that attempt to extend the life of nuclear power plants when the government has yet to present a picture for the future of the nation's energy policies cannot be justified.

Nuclear power costs much more than thermal and other forms of power, yet for decades power companies have recovered expenses, protected by regional monopolies and the full cost pricing method that tacks the cost of producing electricity onto power bills.

With the full liberalization of electricity retailing set to be implemented in fiscal 2016, however, those power companies will lose their regional monopolies. And then the full cost pricing method will be abolished. If more newcomers enter the electricity market and the price of electricity drops, it will become even harder for power companies to recover costs associated with nuclear power.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry therefore proposed new measures to support nuclear power at a meeting to deliberate the role of the nation's nuclear power plants. With respect to the system guaranteeing a set price for electricity produced though nuclear power, the ministry proposed that the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and the disposing of spent nuclear fuel be made part of a standard price, with consumers forced to cover the difference if the market price falls below that standard.

The ministry is also reportedly set to consider revisions to accounting systems to ease the effects of reactor decommissioning on management.

In terms of fuel alone, nuclear power plants can be run more cheaply than oil-fired power plants or those running on liquefied natural gas. This is probably why power companies are rushing to restart reactors. But when it comes to building a new nuclear plant or rebuilding an existing one, then the circumstances are entirely different. The latest support measures indicate that if market principles were to be given free reign, then the option of maintaining nuclear power would vanish.

The basic energy plan that the Cabinet approved in April this year states that Japan will aim to reduce its reliance on nuclear power "as much as possible." At the same time, it describes nuclear power as an "important base-load power source" and says the government will determine the level that should be secured. The proposed measures run counter to the policy of breaking with nuclear power. When considering the government's keenness to restart nuclear power plants, it seems that its real intention is to rely on nuclear power.

It is probably difficult to do away with nuclear power immediately when considering the importance of a stable supply of electricity, global warming countermeasures, energy security and other such issues. But Japan has gone through the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and it should be aiming to achieve a society that does not rely on nuclear power.

The government should therefore outline a path for solving these issues and provide an explanation to the public. Policies that take nuclear power for granted will not win public support.

毎日新聞 2014年09月18日 02時30分