New Environment Minister Goshi Hosono has vowed to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power but has said that halted reactors that pass stringent safety tests may be restarted if the nation’s energy needs are not being met.
The 40-year-old Hosono, who is doubling as state minister in charge of handling the Fukushima nuclear crisis and compensation issues, added there is a need to separate discussions about short-term energy needs and long-term policy.
“I’ve been suspicious of the nuclear policy we have had, especially after March 11. I don’t intend to allow the reactors to be restarted one after another. I’m going to step on the brakes,” Hosono said during his first news conference earlier in September.
He has also said that ambitious pledges to slash carbon dioxide emissions should be maintained, despite the shifting stance on nuclear power.
Nuclear power has been a means of cutting carbon emissions. In September 2009, then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama made an international pledge to trim carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020, compared with 1990 levels.
“It’s important to keep this goal and to think about what can be done to achieve it,” Hosono said.
“We will have discussions at various levels and come up with the best mix of energy sources (to ensure a stable supply.) How much we will reduce the use of nuclear power and when we will do so are among the issues that will be discussed,” he said.
The Environment Ministry has pushed the development of renewable energy sources and the new minister said he will take this even further.
“The regions affected by the quake and tsunami actually have the potential to develop renewable energy, and that will also help revive the local economies,” he said.
As the youngest minister in Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Cabinet, Hosono is the most visible of several Young Turks in the Democratic Party of Japan.
He became a special adviser to former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and served as a link between the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. when the crisis erupted at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
In June he was appointed state minister in charge of the nuclear crisis and has retained the post in the fledgling Noda Cabinet.
Hosono is tasked with ensuring that the reactors reach a cold shutdown and that decontamination efforts are successful. He is also in charge of creating a compensation plan for those affected by the nuclear accident.
Hosono will be overseeing the establishment of a new agency affiliated with the Environment Ministry to regulate nuclear power plants. The current setup of the nuclear safety agency, under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, has been criticized for being too lenient in enforcing regulations.
Creating the new organ under the umbrella of the Environment Ministry was a plan that Hosono came up with in the previous Cabinet.
The new entity will integrate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Nuclear Safety Commission under the Cabinet Office, and radiation and other environmental monitoring functions from the science ministry. Hosono hopes to establish the new body by April.
“The nation’s nuclear power policy has completely lost (the public’s) trust. It is my role to strengthen nuclear power plant regulations, including revising the law. There is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done. As the minister in charge, I will meet this goal,” he said.
Hosono graduated from Kyoto University.
He represents a district in Shizuoka Prefecture. He won his first Lower House seat in 2000 at age 28.