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Japanese Political Elite Divided over Country’s Nuclear Future

Two and a half years after a tsunami devastated Tokyo Electric Power Company’s six reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japan’s political establishment is divided over the country’s nuclear future. Prior to the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe Japan was the world’s third largest producer of nuclear power after the U.S. and France. Japan is now the world's largest importer of LNG, second largest importer of coal and the third largest net importer of oil.

An opinion poll conducted by NHK earlier this month found that nearly half of those responding were against the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s plan to allow the restart of closed NPPs after safety checks.  Only 19 percent of those polls approved of the plan, 32 percent were undecided, and 45 percent were against it. When a second question asked if those polled approved or disapproved of TEPCO’s handling of Fukushima Daiichi of leaks of radioactive wastewater from the crippled nuclear complex, 68 percent of responders said they disapproved, only 27 percent approved.

If there is good news for TEPCO, the figures are better than those from a September 2011 poll by the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, which found that as many as 70 percent of respondents to an opinion poll called for a quick or gradual decrease in the number of NPPs.

Related article: Nuclear Power Gets Hope from New Radiation Data

The debate is ongoing, as on 24 October Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe disagreed with his earlier mentor, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who supports the closure of Japan’s nuclear power industry, labeling the suggestion as “irresponsible.”

Abe’s reason?

Financial. Abe commented that Japan is still not ready to totally rely on thermal power generation as it is still too “expensive.”

Abe added that Japan is losing roughly $41 billion in national wealth annually because all 48 of 50 of Japan’s NPPs nuclear reactors are currently offline, noting, “We will be in big trouble if this continues.” The same day, during an Upper House budget committee meeting, Social Democratic Party leader Tadatomo Yoshida again urged Abe to reject the current administration’s promotion of nuclear power generation and even showed photos of Koizumi and Abe’s wife Akie Abe, who is vocal about her opposition to nuclear power. Other Japanese politicians supporting Koizumi’s call include Your Party chief Yoshimi Watanabe, Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the People’s Life First Party, and former Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Related article: Despite Fukushima, Global Nuclear Power on the Rise

In the meantime, the Japanese economy is scrambling to replace the electricity lost from the shutdown of the nation’s NPPs. The U.S. government’s Energy Information Agency notes, “The Japanese government and electric utilities have taken several steps to ensure power supply meets demand following the Fukushima crisis. Some of these measures for thermal power stations include restoring some of the disaster-affected plants, relaxed regulations on inspections of the stations, and restarting mothballed oil-fueled stations. Also, the government promoted power restraints for consumers in the disaster-affected areas throughout 2011, invoking a 15- percent power reduction on all consumer groups.”

And the future?

Richard J. Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science, director of the Center for International Studies at MIT and Japan expert at the National Bureau of Asian Research in a 22 October 22 report said that Japan could pursue nukes using North Korea and China as a pretext, writing, “Most of the Japanese people are still against having nuclear weapons. However, due to recent developments in the domestic and international arena, they might rethink the issue. Japan’s biggest concern is North Korea. If the North Korean regime collapses or is attacked by outside forces, it is possible that Pyongyang will launch a nuclear attack on Tokyo with the nothing-to-lose mentality. On top of that, it’s doubtful whether the North can control its own nuclear arsenal.”

It will be interesting to see what a poll of the Japanese people makes of Professor Samuels’ observations.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com




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