[ Nippon Keidanren ] [ Journal ]
Messages from "Economic Trend", November 2008

A Proposal on the Energy Problem

Yasuchika HASEGAWA
Vice Chairman of the Board of Councillors, Nippon Keidanren
President, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.

While the recent and sudden increases in crude oil prices have subsided and were somewhat driven by speculative market forces, it still remains that in the medium to long term, demand for oil will continue to outstrip supply with the outcome being a continuation of the upward trend in crude oil prices.

The old paradigm for growth based on cheap oil is already collapsing, and it has become all the more urgent to end our economic dependency on fossil fuels, such as oil and coal. Japan is known as a world leader in energy-saving and natural-resource-saving technologies for industry, however with the recent increases in energy prices, there is a need to develop even greater energy-saving technologies. In terms of energy savings by the average consumer at home and in the office, there has not been as much progress as in industry and further energy savings are possible.

The Diet should pursue policy to encourage energy efficiency. While there is no questioning the importance of incorporating renewable energy--such as solar power--into such policy, there is little hope that these technologies will be able to become Japan's primary source of energy for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, Japan should strengthen its infrastructure and capacity for nuclear power generation. As nuclear power generation also allows for reductions in CO2 emissions, it is a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone type solution that shouldn't be overlooked.

Fortunately for Japan, it possesses world-leading technology in nuclear-power generation and if pluthermal and fast-breeder technologies can be commercialized, we shall be able to recycle the nuclear fuel in a closed cycle as well. Following the shutdown of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant after the 2007 Niigata-Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake, it is understandable that there is some public concern regarding safety. However, it should be commended that the more than 20-year-old power plant, when shaken by an earthquake far greater than it was designed to withstand, automatically and safely shutdown without major incident. Based on this experience and applying the latest in geological and engineering technology, it is certain that even safer nuclear power plants could be constructed today.

One issue that needs to be reconciled is that none of the current nuclear power plants are built near the biggest energy consumers in metropolitan areas such as Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya with most plants built in provincial regions. While it is necessary to assure National Security and public safety, it has come time for the major energy consumers to face their responsibilities and provide leadership by example.

While we must consider and continue to be aware of the country's cultural sensitivity as the only country to have experienced the devastation of nuclear weapons, we must also consider the future development of our country and in so doing dare to propose concrete solutions to the energy problem.

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