15 April 2014

Japan's New Energy Act sparks controversy

The passage of Japan's New Energy Act established where Japan's energy future is headed, as it continues to rebuild three years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

By Melissa Lesh

Japan's New Energy Act established where Japan's energy future is headed. TTstudio

Japan’s National Diet approved the New Energy Act on 11 April.  It is the fourth such proposal since 2011, and the first to meet the approval of the cabinet members and be passed into law.
NRA regulations
The Act allows for Japan’s nuclear power plants to be restarted, provided they meet the stricter safety regulations set forth by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), a new government organization formed in the wake of Fukushima.  The series of safety regulations that it passed in July 2013 reinforces requirements for nuclear plants to guard against natural disasters and terrorist attacks as well as sets better containment policies and protocols in general in case of emergency.  Even with the safety measures in place, there was a negative international reaction to Japan’s decision to continue using nuclear power.
Most advanced coal technology
Coal will have an equally large share of Japan’s energy market, under the April Act. The integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) makes coal a more palatable source of energy; the IGCC process converts the coal into natural gas before burning it.  Japanese trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi said: 'By applying Japan’s most advance coal technology, the US, China and India can reduce a combined 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.'  However, some, including the UN, are unimpressed that Japan’s energy policy includes fossil fuels.
Lack of transparency and trust
And with Japan’s controversial secrecy law set to take effect in December, journalists will be prohibited from reporting how the soon-to-be operating nuclear power plants are guarded.  In fact, 300,000 internal refugees will not return home because they do not trust Japanese authorities’ assurances of low radiation.  It is hard to blame them; Japanese officials raised the acceptable amount of radiation following the disaster so that their clean-up efforts would look more impressive on the world stage.
Market questions
The Act has yet to stipulate whether there will be a free energy market or more government involvement.  The Fukushima No. 1 Plant was operated by private company Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), and faced all of the costs associated with the 2011 nuclear disaster.  To keep nuclear disasters from devastating the private sector, Kansai lawmakers and the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) opposed Act clauses that would privatize nuclear energy.  A TEPCO official cautioned J-Power, another Japanese energy company: 'It’s no good to have a nuclear power plant.  If an accident happens, your company will be done for.'

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