The Japanese people have had a uniquely ambivalent attitude towards nuclear power ever since August 1945, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki achieved the dolorous distinction of being the first cities to be attacked with atomic weapons.
As Japan slowly recovered from the devastation of World War Two, the energy starved country began to embrace civilian nuclear power in the 1960s, assured by generations of politicians that it was safe and reliable.
That assumption was severely battered by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the six reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex, effectively destroying it in the worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Now the assumption by the Japanese government that its people still support nuclear power is about to be put to the vote later this month in an election with potentially dynamic consequences.
A poll conducted last winter strongly indicated that the Japanese public’s love affair with nuclear power was over, with nearly 80 percent of those polled favoring phasing out the country’s nuclear energy program.
While in the aftermath of the Fukushima debacle, the Japanese government took the country's 54 nuclear reactors offline, since then, citing ongoing energy shortages, the government has restarted two reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
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If the new Nippon Mirai no To (Japan Future Party) has its way, not only will the Oi NPP be brought offline, but the rest of the country’s remaining 53 reactors will be decommissioned within ten years, a prospect that is unnerving the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which favors a more leisurely timeline, calling for halting all nuclear reactors in the 2030s.
Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada, Japan Future Party leader, unveiled her party’s platform on 2 December, and it is quite explicit. Kada told a news conference, "We want to secure peace of mind for the future, as opposed to those forces that want to maintain the political status quo, oblivious to the fact that 3/11 marked a turning point."
Even more unsettling for the Democratic Party of Japan, the JFP intends to field 109 candidates to run in single-seat constituencies in the 16 December House of Representatives election, where 480 seats are up for grabs, in the first election since the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Kada, mincing no words said of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which is pro-nuclear and widely tipped to win the election, “The Liberal Democratic Party makes a myth of nuclear safety, neglected to prepare for an accident, and has shown no reflection on the Fukushima accident.” Analysts note that a LDP victory would also signal successful lobbying by Japan's "nuclear village," an interconnected skein of vested interests of utilities, bureaucrats and lawmakers that remains powerful despite Fukushima.
DPJ Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has already gone on the offensive, stating, "Some say they will halt all nuclear reactors immediately, but can they? Will voters choose the realistic DPJ or a different party pushing an irresponsible policy? We are completely different (in our policies).”
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Noda and the LDP can be in no doubt about the JFP agenda. Its platform includes: immediately taking offline Oi NPP’s two reactors; withholding approval to restart reactors that have been kept offline; prohibiting the construction of new reactors, including the Oma nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture, and the immediate closure of both the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture and the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture.
Can the JFP, established only on 27 November, prevail against the entrenched political and business interests with an anti-nuclear agenda? Kada’s goal is to unite anti-nuclear parties and become a so-called third political force to challenge both the DPJ and the LDP, both of whom have vast fiscal resources to deploy in an effort to maintain the status quo. A year and a half after the Fukushima accident, more than 100,000 people remain displaced from their homes in Fukushima prefecture.
The general outlines of both the LDP and DPJ election platforms are becoming clear, to focus on economic issues, much as the 6 November U.S. presidential election revolved around rival Democratic and Republic appeals to the voters on job creation and reviving the economy.
Whatever the outcome of the election, its seems likely that the JFP will win some seats in the House of Representatives, and whether the LDP or DPJ carries they day, they had better prepare to have their nuclear policies scrutinized at every turn in the Japanese Parliament.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com