Japan moves towards a strategy

30 August 2012

Analysis of opinion polls confirms public pressure to use as little nuclear energy as possible, while previous communication failures have all but eliminated power companies and the government from the debate.

Three energy scenarios are being put before the Japanese people, based around the contribution to electricity that nuclear power would make in 2030. The consultation and eventual policy decision will be made at the end of the year by the National Policy Unit (NPU), headed by Motohisa Furukawa.

The government unit has solicited comments from the public and held many local meetings. It has also monitored public opinion polling in the media and yesterday released an analysis of what it has found so far, entitled Towards a strategy - where public debate is pointing. It showed overwhelming majority support for the two options that would see nuclear power slashed.

In brief, the scenarios can be called the 0%, 15% and 20-25% options, representing the portion of electricity that would come from nuclear power plants. Before the accident at Fukushima Daiichi the portion was 26% and national policy was to increase that to 45% by 2030 as the main way to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Twelve polls conducted by national media showed support for the 0% option in the range of 31-49%, while the 15% option was preferred by 29-54% of people across all the polls. In one poll, support for one or other of those most extreme phase-out options was 85%, while none showed lower than 71%.

Support for the 20-25% option was in the range of 10-17%, while an option offered by the media - but not the government - of having no set target for nuclear was chosen by 5-15% of people.

The options

  Status before
March 2011
20- 25% 
Total electricity  1.1 PWh 1.2 PWh 1.0 PWh 1.0 PWh 1.0 PWh
Fossil fuels 63% 35% 65% 55% 50%
Nuclear  26% 45% 0% 15% 20-25% 
Renewables  10% 20% 35% 30% 25-30% 
Greenhouse gas
(relative to 1990) 

From records of public meetings, the NPU broke down the reasons given by people for their support of the 0% option. Top of the list were safety concerns and fears about impact on health. Second was a general preference for renewables, just ahead of perceived problems with the ethics of using nuclear power. Issues of waste management were the last major reason people gave for selecting 0%.

Online voting by media companies saw supporters of all options voice support for renewables and development of new energy sources. Factors in favour of nuclear power among supporters of the 15% and 20-25% options were its reliability and the impacts on jobs, manufacturing and the economy that could result from a phase-out.

The results will make dismal reading for Japan's power companies, which have been in dire financial straits since being disallowed from restarting their nuclear reactors after refuelling and inspection outages. However, communication mistakes made by Tepco and the government during the early days of the accident - and their subsequent failure to explain the true effects of the accident - appear to have effectively ruled them out of the debate.

Three of the polls identified by the NPU asked people which option they support as well as which information sources they considered reliable. Overall, information from power companies was thought to be reliable by only 3.5-3.9% of people. Two of the polls found that none of the 0% supporters thought utilities were reliable - and in the third, the figure was only 1.1%. Instead, those people trusted information from NGOs (30.8-33.8%) and the Internet (13.7-21.8%).

The government was trusted only slightly more than nuclear companies, at 6.0-6.3% overall. The figures for utilities and the government tended to be higher among the 15% and 20-25%, while well trusted sources were independent nuclear experts at 18.2-21.4%.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News