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Japan Minister Says Nationalization Needed to Phase Out Nuclear

Japan’s government should take control of nuclear power plants to achieve its goal of phasing out atomic power over the next three decades, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano wrote in a book published today.

It is “inevitable” the government will have to step in if nuclear operators cannot pay compensation costs in the event of an accident, Edano, 48, told reporters when asked about the nationalization proposal in his 240-page book. “It doesn’t make sense that private companies profit from nuclear power, while the government alone bears risk,” Edano said.

Japan plans to phase out atomic energy by the end of the 2030s after the quake and tsunami in March 2011 caused meltdowns and radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant north of Tokyo. The government took control of Tokyo Electric Power Co. in July this year as the Fukushima disaster left the operator of the crippled plant on the brink of bankruptcy.

“The government should effectively operate nuclear power plants” because of the potential costs of a nuclear accident, Edano wrote. “The government can then have the authority over operation and decommissioning of reactors in return for taking the risks.”

Japan should achieve zero nuclear in two phases, Edano wrote. Reactors that do not meet safety standards need to be decommissioned. Secondly, the government should set safety ratings based on criteria such as type and age of units. Then the reactors can be decommissioned, starting with the ones most at risk.

Edano, a former patent lawyer, was chief cabinet secretary when the triple catastrophe of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown happened on March 11 last year. He led daily news briefings on the disaster, which won generally high approval ratings from the public at the time.

Edano, who attended university in the Tohoku region most damaged by the quake, has clashed publicly with business leaders over his views on nuclear energy. His ministry oversees the atomic power industry.

Hiromasa Yonekura, the chairman of Sumitomo Chemical Co and head of Keidanren Japan’s biggest business lobby, said phasing out nuclear is unrealistic and “ignorant of economic efficiency.”

Edano’s book doesn’t have an official English-language title. It translates roughly as “Things That I Have to Say Even if Criticized.”

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