Japan split over nuclear energy policy as election looms

Today has seen many people taking to the streets in Japan in protest against the use of nuclear power in the country. Many large-scale protests have taken place since the fatal Fukushima disaster of March 2011, in which one of the plant’s nuclear reactors went into meltdown releasing dangerous levels of radiation. Last year 60,000 participated in Japan‘s largest ever anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo. Campaigners are against other nuclear plants resuming operations, and argue that Fukushima is still contaminated with radiation in a situation that is far from “under control”. They are dismissive of arguments that Japan will face energy shortages without nuclear power, citing the nationwide efforts made by businesses and households to conserve energy which generated tangible results. The country is expected have a 5-percent surplus of power next summer without restarting any additional reactors.

The government of the Fukushima prefecture has set a goal of decommissioning all 10 reactors in the area, and has also refused to accept state subsidies related to hosting nuclear facilities. However many are critical about the progress made in the clean-up efforts, which is seen to be slow. 160,000 people are still uprooted from their homes and trillions of yen are still required for compensation payouts to victims of the nuclear accident and decontamination work in the prefecture.

The nuclear disaster re-ignited debate about the safety of nuclear power and also brought up wider questions about Japan‘s energy policy. With Japan‘s Lower House elections set to take place at the end of this year, nuclear power generation is now, more than ever, a key issue on the agenda. The current government led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda shut down all nuclear reactors in Japan following the accident, and though two were later reopened, Noda promised to permanently abandon nuclear energy by 2039. There have been some doubts however as to the party’s commitment to an anti-nuclear policy, and it seems to have succumbed to pressure from business as well as the US government.

However, Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan has lost popularity in recent opinion polls, and it seems that the imminent elections will see opposition leader Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Deomocratic Party come to power. Although the party has so far avoided making a clear stance on the issue in its election campaign, given their history of promoting nuclear power, they are expected to give the go-ahead for the resumption of nuclear power generation if they are successful, and Abe has called Noda’s phase-out plan “unrealistic”. Makoto Yagi, president of Kansai Electric Power Co. who were forced to suspend construction work on their plant in Kaminoseki, says the nuclear industry will side with Abe, stating that “the LDP is a party we can relate to.” Many power companies fell into the red with the suspension of nuclear power generation, and analysts believe that businesses may now move their bases abroad to avoid rising electricity costs.

Among other politicians views are mixed, with those such as Ichiro Ozawa and Shizuka Kamei adopting a strong anti-nuclear stance, while the Japan Restoration party has weakened its anti-nuclear policy. Some were amazed at those promoting pro-nuclear policies; Sadaji Asawa, mayor of Otama in the Fukushima Prefecture said “I cannot understand why some politicians are pushing to restart nuclear plants without confirming their safety at a time when the abnormal situation continues in [this] Prefecture.”

Japan‘s Lower House elections will take place on December 16th 2012.

Sources include: Asahi Shimbun, Labornet Japan

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One Response to Japan split over nuclear energy policy as election looms

  1. tomo says:

    I am Japanese people.
    I think that we should do away with nuclear energy in Japan, even if we can’t live the conventional life so far.

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