The plan by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, to reduce the nation’s reliance on nuclear power to zero in the 2030s is likely to be sidelined if the DPJ falls from power in the Dec. 16 Lower House election.
Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, currently the main opposition force, has lambasted the zero-nuclear goal as “irresponsible.” The once long-ruling LDP promoted and paved the financial way for the nation’s atomic plants, which now mostly lie idle amid the triple-meltdown crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano, who championed the DPJ zero-reliance goal, has said nuclear power will be clearly a major issue in the election.
At a meeting with officials of a business group, Abe said the LDP aims to “achieve economic growth in Japan by promoting policies on nuclear power.” The party will look to reduce the nation’s dependence on atomic power, but not to zero, he explained.
The zero-nuclear goal came about as a direct result of the tragedy at Fukushima No. 1, whose quake and tsunami defenses were woefully inadequate to deal with the deadly March 11, 2011, megaquake-tsunami disaster.
Among newly launched political parties that seek to form a third force to vie with the DPJ and the LDP, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Nippon Ishin No Kai (Japan Restoration Party) also targets zero reliance in the 2030s.
In contrast, former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party), which is expected to merge with Nippon Ishin no Kai, has supported the use of nuclear power and would allow the construction of more atomic plants.
According to a plan adopted in October, the government will map out a strategy for promoting renewable energy sources and revamping the power industry by the end of this year as part of efforts to create a society that doesn’t have to rely on nuclear power.
The government is expected to keep working on the strategy after the Lower House was dissolved Friday. “The work will be carried out steadily, as initially planned,” Edano said.
However, a shift from the zero-nuclear goal, if decided, would be certain to affect the nation’s overall energy policy.
The energy sector is keenly focused on the outcome of the Dec. 16 election and the next administration that will emerge from it, although a radical reversal of the current policy goals may not be in the immediate offing.
“It is too early to think that halted nuclear reactors will be reactivated soon after a change of administration,” a power utility executive said.
Osaka Gas Co. President Hiroshi Ozaki said, “I hope the current energy policies will be reset and a new plan will be made under a new administration.”
Currently, only two of Japan’s 50 viable nuclear reactors are operating.
They are units 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. They were reactivated in July — the first to be fired up since the Fukushima disaster started.
All reactors now are required to undergo so-called stress tests to ensure they can survive natural disasters, and they possibly face even harsher qualification criteria under the newly established nuclear regulator.