Japan must ditch nuclear power: Kan

Timetable specifics lacking but snap election mandate ruled out

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

Japan should gradually become a society that does not have to rely on atomic power, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Wednesday amid the continuing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

“I think that’s the direction our country should head toward,” Kan told a televised news conference. But he did not specify a timetable, saying it is too early to outline specifics.

Kan also denied that he is planning to call a snap election over energy issues, amid strong speculation that he may dissolve the Lower House this summer to try to break the political stalemate.

Concerning his expected resignation, Kan only said, “I have already spoken on my course of action at a meeting of lawmakers and a news conference,” referring to the June 27 news conference in which he said he intends to step down after three key bills clear the Diet.

The bills include the second supplementary budget bill, a special bill to issue deficit-covering government bonds necessary to fund the fiscal 2011 budget, and legislation introducing a so-called feed-in-tariff system to promote renewable energy sources.

Meanwhile, Kan said it will be possible to supply sufficient power this summer and winter by conserving energy. “With the public’s cooperation and understanding of energy conservation, especially at peak hours, it will be possible to avoid power shortages this summer,” he said.

He also apologized again for taking so long to issue instructions over restarting nuclear reactors halted for regular inspections.

His abrupt decision that all nuclear plants must undergo stress tests to assess reactor safety created confusion among government officials in Saga Prefecture, which hosts two reactors in the town of Genkai that were shut down after regular inspections, causing the mayor to withdraw his decision to restart them only a few days after he had given the go-ahead.

The announcement has raised concern among business leaders about summer power shortages that could hurt the economy.

Four months since the Fukushima plant was crippled by the quake-tsunami disaster, only 19 of the country’s 54 reactors are up and running, and local governments have been reluctant to restart those that have been taken offline over concerns for the safety of residents.

Before the Fukushima crisis, the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years, atomic power accounted for about 30 percent of the country’s electricity supply.

At the news conference, Kan also said he hopes to do his best to rebuild the Tohoku region that was devastated on March 11.

Kan, in office since June last year, has been criticized for his perceived lack of leadership in dealing with the aftermath of the March disaster. His approval ratings have dropped to less than 20 percent in recent weeks.

Kan sidestepped Wednesday the question of when he would resign.

On June 2, Kan survived a no-confidence motion by promising to turn his job over to the younger generation, once certain progress is made in rebuilding the disaster-stricken northeastern region and containing the nuclear crisis.

Information from Kyodo added