October 26, 2011
–The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 26
EDITORIAL: Spending review needed for nuclear-related subsidies
If the Yoshihiko Noda administration is serious about weaning the nation off nuclear power generation, one of the biggest issues it must address is its relationship with local governments with jurisdiction over the nuclear power plants.
The oil shocks of the 1970s propelled Japan toward greater dependence on nuclear energy.
Many of the municipalities that agreed to host nuclear plants were experiencing population drains and had no local industry to speak of.
For taking in what nobody else wanted in their backyards, the municipalities were “rewarded” with huge amounts of government subsidies, even while the plants were still in the planning stages.
Roads and public gymnasiums sprang up, funded by the subsidies and property tax revenues.
And from 2003, the municipalities became able to spend their incomes in “soft” fields, such as supporting community activities and footing hospital personnel expenses.
As their finances grew stronger, so did their dependence on the nuclear industry.
In some municipalities, nuclear-related revenues make up more than 60 percent of the general account.
But the March disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant has changed things.
The town of Namie and the city of Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture, where Tohoku Electric Power Co. has plans to build nuclear plants, have decided to decline government subsidies for the current fiscal year.
And in Ibaraki Prefecture, the head of Tokaimura village–the site of Japan’s first nuclear power plant–has recommended to the government that the Tokai No. 2 plant be decommissioned.
This is the first case of a local administrative body voluntarily seeking to end its financial dependence on the nuclear industry.
Other municipalities are beginning to expect eventual cuts in government subsidies and are making plans accordingly.
In switching its energy policy, the government needs to be fully receptive to these changing attitudes of local governments.
Specifically, the government needs to take a good, hard look at its subsidy system and ask itself this question: The subsidies were initially meant to promote regional development, but hasn’t the system devolved into a means of “buying off” struggling communities, which is actually counterproductive to self-government in the true sense of the term?
If this is the case, the system must be overhauled.
Some local governments are still pushing nuclear power generation,
but their neighboring municipalities are becoming increasingly cautious.
Now that conventional disaster control zones are being considered for expansion, keeping or scrapping a nuclear power plant is no longer a decision that can be left only to the community where the plant is situated.
We believe the time has come to include all communities in the vicinity in the decision-making process.
We are fully aware, of course, that any abrupt nuclear plant closure and withdrawal of government subsidies would be devastating to the regional economy.
How should the transition take place?
What role can the region play in the nation’s shift to greater energy diversity?
In order for the region to think these things through and come up with practicable solutions, the government must provide occasions for thorough debate.
And this is not something people in the big cities can shrug aside as none of their business.
After all, the government subsidies for municipalities that host nuclear power plants are financed by the so-called power resources development promotion tax, which is collected from all taxpayers as part of their electricity bills.
To review how money is being spent for nuclear power generation is to explore a new rule for the redistribution of our tax money,
and this is something all citizens need to think about.