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Editorial: Japan's parties must present clear plans to hit net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050

Climate change is already menacing people's lives, through torrential rain disasters, droughts and more. So how do we build a society that does not emit greenhouse gases such as CO2? This is one major question for Japan's current House of Representative election.

    Japan has passed a law committing it to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and both the ruling and opposition parties aim to meet this deadline. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he plans to institute a "clean energy strategy," and Yukio Edano, head of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) is talking about "founding a renewable energy nation."

    One focal point in the debate over carbon-free energy is the role of nuclear power.

    After living through the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, many Japanese citizens are against continued use of atomic power. Every political party has also committed to reducing reliance on nuclear energy, but there are differences in degree among their policies.

    The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has, since the Fukushima disaster, been speaking about "building a society that does not rely on atomic power," and is holding to that line in the current campaign. At the same time, however, the party is treating the technology as indispensable for achieving net zero emissions, and is promoting reactor restarts across the country. It is also apparently actively pushing investment in new, small modular reactors.

    All this suggests a nuclear revival in Japan. And if the LDP is intent on this policy direction, it must provide a convincing explanation to the people.

    The opposition, meanwhile, is clearly in favor of leaving reactors behind. The CDP is campaigning on running Japan entirely on renewables by 2050, while the Japanese Communist Party is pledging to get the country out of nuclear power by 2030.

    But this begs the question: Where is the electricity needed to run our lives and our industries going to come from without nuclear energy? And the opposition parties do not as yet have a concrete policy answer. If they do not present a roadmap to achieving carbon neutrality and maintaining a stable power supply at the same time, attracting public support for their plans will be difficult.

    Nuclear power is a carbon-free source of energy, but it also creates atomic waste. Japan has long sought to implement a "nuclear fuel cycle," where spent reactor fuel is reprocessed for reuse. However, the program is effectively a failure. Debate on this problem must not be put off.

    Moving away from carbon-based energy is a global trend. The European Union has designated renewable energy as a growth industry. There are also corporate bonds being issued for vast sums to be used only for initiatives in the environmental sector. In short, there is an effort underway to reorient the entire structure of the economy worldwide.

    So how will Japan achieve a carbon-free society? Now is the time to call for a concrete strategy.

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