The biggest issue in the next Lower House election will be whether Japan aims to stop using nuclear power, former national policy minister Satoshi Arai said in a recent interview.
The Liberal Democratic Party, the top opposition force, “is starting to say that zero dependence on nuclear power is unrealistic,” said Arai, former chairman of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s project team working to bring the Fukushima nuclear crisis under control.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has put forward a strategy aimed at reducing reliance on nuclear energy to zero in the 2030s, although his Cabinet failed to endorse the strategy.
If the LDP — which promoted nuclear power during its postwar reign of nearly five decades — returns to power, the zero policy will be scrapped, Arai said.
Because the LDP has backed Noda’s increase in the consumption tax, that is not expected to be a major issue in the general election. However, Arai said, the debate over scrapping or continuing the use of nuclear power will be the election’s most explosive issue.
Arai lamented the Noda administration’s failure to adopt the zero-nuclear strategy at a Cabinet meeting, saying this has given a negative impression about its commitment to reducing the country’s dependence on nuclear power to zero in the 2030s.
Arai said the biggest discrepancy in the national nuclear policy lies in the way the country pushed ahead with atomic power without completely developing the nuclear fuel cycle program.
“Without the nuclear fuel cycle, there will be no place for spent nuclear fuel,” Arai said, noting that capacity for storing the fuel at most nuclear plants will be exceeded in five to six years.
Asked who should make the decision to resume operations at halted reactors, Arai said the newly established Nuclear Regulation Authority should initially judge the safety of individual reactors after they draw up evacuation plans for accidents.
The authority should make decisions from the technical and safety standpoints, Arai said, but “the final decisions should be taken by political leaders, who reflect public opinion.”