View from Japan:
Bridging the transition to a safe & secure energy future

by Shunsuke Kondo

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Sendai nuclear power plant, Sendai, Japan

Oil - most of it imported - remains Japan's largest source of energy, but the level of dependence is shrinking. Nuclear energy and natural gas are making up the difference. Since the oil crises in 1973, oil's share of energy consumption has fallen 25%, while the combined shares for nuclear and gas have grown to top 30%.

This transition forces us to acknowledge in the strategic plan that over the long term, not just new but truly radically new energy technologies are coming. They will effectively address the challenges of air pollution, climate change and energy supply insecurity while expanding energy service worldwide. During the second quarter of this century many other technologies - such as photovoltaic power, fuel cell cars, hydrogen derived from many sources and di-methyl ether or similar synthetic fuel derived from biomass - will become as commonplace as gasoline cars and coal-fired power plants are today.

It is essential for the nuclear community, therefore, to continue to explore innovative nuclear energy supply system concepts that can compete in such new energy markets. This will make nuclear energy technology sustainable in terms of social acceptability as well as in terms safety, economy, environmental protection, and non-proliferation.

Preparing for the Future

Such system concepts should include nuclear reactor systems that are consistent with the pursuit of a "zero emission" society. Examples are to develop practical technologies to reduce the toxicity of high-level radioactive waste bound for geological disposal and nuclear reactors that can be used for the production of hydrogen as a fuel in the transport sector.

We believe that the government should support exploratory activities for future energy systems. It is important for the government, though, to establish a level playing field to assure fair assessment of various options, nuclear and non nuclear. This serves to prevent the emergence of public mistrust of the government's energy policy. International collaboration should be effectively implemented to increase transparency and accountability - and to reduce research and development costs.

Finally, the AEC recognizes the importance of successful continuation of nuclear construction activities by fostering competitive plant designs. Without progress, it will become very difficult to maintain qualified suppliers of nuclear equipment and components, contractor and architect engineer/engineering organizations with the personnel, skill, and experience in nuclear design, engineering, and construction. Therefore we consider it our responsibility to ask concerned organizations to review the situation, plan and execute actions to assure the availability of needed experts in various sectors essential to the maintenance of infrastructures for regulation, construction and operation of nuclear facilities.

These and other key aspects of nuclear knowledge management can be effectively pursued in consultation with professional societies, and through global collaboration among the main institutional players. Preserving and cultivating the "know-how" in this way will bridge the transition in the dawn to a safe and secure energy future integrated with the wise utilization of nuclear energy systems.

Shunsuke Kondo, Professor Emeritus of The University of Tokyo, is the Chairman of Japan Atomic Energy Commission. E-mail: [email protected]

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