「原発ゼロ」社会:下 市民の熟議で信頼構築を

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 6
EDITORIAL: New system needed to ensure public input on nuclear power
「原発ゼロ」社会:下 市民の熟議で信頼構築を

The devastating accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year has evoked serious public distrust of politicians, bureaucrats and scientists.

What needs to be done to stop the continuing growth of public distrust and restore their credibility with the people?

The government has promised to promote “national debate” as part of its efforts to map out a new nuclear power and energy policy. Specifically, it plans to sort out the possible policy options that have been discussed by related advisory councils and study groups and present them to the people.

The government says it is aiming to build a national consensus on the future direction of the policy by summer.

But not all the assumptions for the debate are clear.

The government’s committee looking into the nuclear accident has yet to compile its report. The proposed new nuclear safety watchdog, tentatively named the “Nuclear Regulatory Agency,” has yet to be created. It will be even longer before new nuclear safety standards are established.

The power supply and demand situation this summer and progress in the efforts to promote use of renewable energy sources will also influence the debate.

A well-thought-out plan and its careful implementation are vital. A rough-and-ready approach could even deepen the people’s distrust.


Western industrial nations have responded to “crises of credibility” of experts involved in policymaking, such as scientists, by trying to restore public confidence in them through in-depth discussions among citizens.

When the credibility of scientists who ruled out the transmission of mad cow disease to humans was shattered, for example, Britain began to make serious efforts to promote policy debate involving ordinary citizens. Some 20,000 citizens took part in the debate over genetically modified food, including people who did so through the Internet. Various forums were established also for discussions on the safety of nanotechnology.

Science and technology make our lives more comfortable and convenient but can also produce some unexpected side effects and risks.

As the world has experienced many serious cases of public pollution and major accidents, there is now a growing global trend toward giving public opinion more influence over policy decisions on such issues as whether to permit the practical use of specific technologies.

At the same time, a broad array of schemes have been devised to allow citizens to participate in the policymaking process as a way to shore up eroding public confidence in democracy.

The nuclear power and energy policy is one of the biggest themes that should reflect these two trends.

In Japan, however, the atomic energy policy has been plagued by fake democracy. Spurious efforts to seek the opinions of local communities that are actually designed to justify the predetermined plans to build nuclear power facilities have been rampant.

The bleak situation was highlighted anew by Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s attempt to manipulate public opinion on the resumption of operations at its Genkai nuclear power plant by using hundreds of its employees to send pro-nuclear e-mails to a TV program on the issue.

In contrast, major Western countries generally have fairer and more transparent systems for citizen participation in policy debate. Typically, several dozens of “ordinary citizens” are chosen at random for debate on a specific policy issue to ensure that the participants represent a good cross section of society.

After learning the basics of the issue, the participants think them over and discuss the issue at leisure. Usually, the participants are asked to express their opinions through proposals and questionnaires as summaries of the results of the debate. Their opinions are considered by the government and the legislature.

To win the trust of society, such policy debate must be independent, neutral and transparent.

That means debate needs to be organized and sponsored by a neutral and independent body and moderated by experienced staff skilled in avoiding leading debate in a certain direction. It is also important to make clear the relationship of the experts chosen to support the debate with the industry and the government.


This approach is no magic wand. It requires time and money. The citizens have no power to make the final policy decision. The system doesn’t replace the legislature composed of elected representatives.

All that such a system can do is to show the provisional common sense among citizens at that time, which can only play a supplementary role.

Still, it can make up for the shortcomings of the traditional policymaking process, at least to some extent. It can make visible citizens’ good sense as well as differences in the principles and tenets on which they cannot compromise.

These are functions that are needed for meaningful debate to overcome the sharp division among Japanese over the future of nuclear power generation in this nation.

If the results of such careful and in-depth policy debate are handed down to the next generation, that would give an incentive for people living now to respect the right of “future generations” to make decisions. This is one realistic way to tackle policy challenges that will affect many generations to come, such as how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

In addition, this approach is also useful for solving the dilemma posed by the fact that elections don’t necessarily guarantee the best choices for specific policy issues because they are fought over the campaign platforms of the parties that contain a wide range of proposals.

In the city of Tokushima, citizens that didn’t belong to either camp in debate over the construction of a sluice-gate dam in the Yoshinogawa river held many meetings to study the issue. Their fruitful efforts prompted the city to hold a referendum on the issue.

There can also be a system to hold popular referendums on national policy issues after several years of promoting such in-depth grassroots debate on the issues.

In preparing for the envisioned national debate on the nation’s energy future, the government should entrust a neutral party to manage the actual operations and take steps to make sure there is an exhaustive and constructive debate that is beneficial for future generations as well.

The government should craft specific plans to implement its policy of phasing out nuclear power generation in Japan as soon as possible. But continuing in-depth debate on the nuclear power policy would help promote public understanding and periodical reviews of the policy.


The Diet should play a leading role in the efforts to promote such in-depth policy debate by citizens.

In Japan, the Diet has set up its own investigative committee to uncover the facts about the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

We urge the Diet to show a commitment to fostering broad consensus among the people on related issues.

There is actually a long list of formidable policy challenges that will go beyond the current generation, including integrated tax and social security reform as well as the reinvention of the nuclear power and energy policy.

Lawmakers should consider setting up a new executive office within the Diet to organize meetings for in-depth discussions among citizens on policy issues and help universities, nonprofit organizations and other neutral bodies hold such public hearings as well.

People tend to long for a strong leader when their distrust of politics and confusion about policy issues deepen.

But the only way to secure real progress in democracy is to get citizens more deeply involved in the policymaking process and in the efforts to solve policy issues as their own challenges.

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