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Get Koizumi: Nuclear village goes on offensive

by Philip Brasor

Since spring, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has become increasingly vocal in his opposition to nuclear power. Though he decided Japan should abandon atomic reactors after the Great East Japan Earthquake set in motion the Fukushima crisis, he was already retired from politics. The mass media paid no attention.

Then he sat for an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in summer and described a trip he took to Europe, at his own initiative and in the company of several nuclear industry executives, to inspect the Onkalo nuclear-waste repository in Finland and the situation in Germany, which has moved away from atomic energy. Despite the presence of men whose job it was to convince him otherwise, he returned even more resolute in his belief that Japan must reject nuclear.

The response has been divided along predictably ideological lines. Politicians who are against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s plan to reopen as many plants as possible are delighted to have the former president of the LDP on their side. Since Koizumi is one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s mentors it might be bad form to criticize him, but last week he called Koizumi’s idea “irresponsible” on TV Asahi.

The official party position seems to be to ignore him. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga remarked that like any citizen, Koizumi “can say anything he wants,” though Economic Revitalization Minister Akira Amari told reporters that Koizumi’s stance demonstrates that he’s not thinking about what he’s saying.

All this beating around the bush hardly mattered to the average person, but on Oct. 20 Koizumi gave a lecture in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, and invited TV cameras to record it. That night, every station showed clips of the speech and suddenly the ex-premier couldn’t be ignored, since the general public could see for itself that he is adamant in his opposition to nuclear energy, which he supported when he was a lawmaker. The speech itself was nothing special, but the fact that he was making it — and making a big deal of it — was.

Still, it wasn’t as notable as the letter Koizumi wrote earlier in response to a Yomiuri Shimbun editorial that slammed his position. Koizumi’s angry missive picked apart each complaint made by the paper, which backs the LDP’s plan to restart reactors. The Yomiuri called Koizumi’s belief in Japan’s ability to develop renewable energy “optimistic and irresponsible,” and reiterated all the arguments of the pro-nuclear camp — that nuclear is cleaner and cheaper; that thermal is bad for consumers and the environment.

Koizumi’s rebuttals were flimsy, but his main assertion — that Japan cannot maintain a nuclear-power industry if it has no place to put its waste — was attacked by the paper with sloppy logic. The Yomiuri dismissed Koizumi’s concern because the short-sightedness of not providing a nuclear waste repository “is the fault of politics,” of which he was at the center for many years. Koizumi has no right to complain about a situation he had a hand in creating.

In his famously casual way, Koizumi waved off the criticism by admitting he didn’t develop a plan for storing nuclear waste when he was prime minister, but that doesn’t mean “a person can’t correct himself.” In any event, the Yomiuri professes the same unfounded optimism it accuses Koizumi of advancing. The paper says the problem of finding a place to put nuclear waste will eventually be solved “by political means,” but there is no indication that anyone in Japan will ever allow the government to bury it in their backyard.

Political pundit Yoshiya Kobayashi, quoted by online news magazine Zakzak, was flabbergasted by the letter, saying that while Koizumi has firmly stated he has no intention of running for office again, he appears to be even more of a henjin (eccentric) than he was when he was a legislator. Koizumi is “pushing his opinion” even though he gains nothing personally from it. This is a first for Japan: a political figure who not only undergoes a change of mind in public, but tries to make a difference after giving up the political power to do so.

Koizumi’s public challenging of a major daily’s editorial position is something else no Japanese politician of his stature, retired or active, has done before, and the backlash was immediate. Isao Iijima, Koizumi’s closest aide for 35 years, wrote an article for the weekly Shukan Bunshun in which he implies his former boss never had an original idea in his life. Most politicians are facilitators, not idea men, and whatever you think of his pet privatization project, Koizumi was good at selling it, what with his knack for communicating policy in simple, down-to-earth language. Iijima’s article is transparently self-serving, since he now works for the LDP as a cabinet adviser. Like the Yomiuri, he believes that all the problems with nuclear power will be solved over time through “political efforts.”

What might be making the LDP nervous is not so much Koizumi’s activism but rather the effect it could have on his son, Shinjiro, the party’s rock star. Shinjiro is genuinely liked by the public, which is why he volunteered for the position of reconstruction minister, a job nobody else in the LDP would touch. Abe is in his debt, because people in the disaster-affected areas think that if the LDP is sending its most popular politician to Tohoku, it means the government is serious about rebuilding.

That places him in an awkward position, since the media wants to know his thoughts on his father’s genpatsu zero (no nukes) advocacy. An article in Yukan Fuji quoted him as saying that while he must follow the party line, he wants to hear what his father has to say.

Earlier, Mainichi reported that he had answered some journalists’ query about Koizumi Sr. with the observation that politics is a struggle between “the ideal and reality,” and no one wants a politician who “ignores people’s hopes and dreams.” Of course, many of his supporters hope that the nuclear reactors don’t reopen — but maybe it’s just a dream.

  • Sam Gilman

    “The response has been divided along predictably ideological lines. ”

    No, the response has been divided along the line of who supports the continued use of nuclear power and who doesn’t. That’s not, or shouldn’t be, an ideological question.

    These repeated attempts to portray anyone who does not resolutely follow the Japan Times’ anti-nuclear position as either corrupt, extremist or crazy are much more a reflection of the intellectual weakness of many Japan Times writers on this issue than anything else.

  • Starviking

    I try to keep my ‘ignorance’ ever-growing by reading scientific papers on the matter. You should try it, it’s very enlightening. Ex-PM Koizumi should give it a go too.

  • Sam Gilman

    Thank you for proving my point. You dish out insults rather than engage.

    I could try to get you to read material about the relative safety of various energy sources, about the urgency of tackling climate change, and about the immense technical challenges and obstacles to providing our energy through renewables alone, but I think you’ve made it abundantly clear that you are not interested in anyone’s reasons or arguments.

  • Sam Gilman

    If you are, as you repeatedly imply, not ignorant on energy issues, let’s see what your view is based on. You say nuclear power is obsolete. What technology do you believe already supersedes it as a provider of base load electricity?

    • philippesama

      The only question that remains is why do you use so much time and energy trying to save nuclear industry? What personal interest do you have to do that?

      • Sam Gilman

        I have no
        personal or financial connection to the nuclear industry whatsoever. Again, I note that you do not debate, but simply throw insults and aspersions.

        I asked you a direct question about energy options. By emphasising the ignorance of others, you are claiming some expertise in this area. Was that a false claim?

      • philippesama

        Do not be so nervous, I mean you no harm ;-) Assuming you do not lie, you seem to be one of those rare specimen whose motives are not clear. I’m much more interested in human than at the technology. That is why I try to understand why you are such a strong supporter of nuclear power. Be nice enlighten me.

      • Sam Gilman

        To be clear: you admit you are not interested in the technological issues, and you think my real reasons are selfish.

        In other words, you are, by your own admission and actions here, both ignorant and cynical. Precisely what you accuse other people of being.

        As you said, this conversation is for other people to see which if us may be right. I have asked you three times to look at evidence and you have refused. Every single one of your posts is a baseless accusation.

        There are very serious technical and environmental obstacles to moving to a renewables-only power system, and the science is telling us we need to cut CO2 as fast as possible.

        If, as seems to be the case here, you are unable and unwilling to discuss these issues, and if all you can do is baselessly insult other people, perhaps you ought to step back and let people with a more mature attitude to discussion take over.

  • Sam Gilman

    First of all, thank you for finally making a concrete positive suggestion. It means we can now look at the numbers and see if your idea of cutting back consumption works.

    You think we should go back to (and I quote you here) “the middle of 20th century. We already lived very well I know it and you know it too”.

    Ok, Let’s do that. 1950. Who was living very well then? Not Europeans or Japanese, for obvious reasons, who were recovering from a devastating war. So, I’m going to assume (fairly, I think), that you are talking about Americans.

    Let’s look at historical per capita emissions (PDF): In 2008 the average American emitted 4.71 tons of carbon. In 1950, the level of consumption you believe to be sustainable, the average American emitted 4.32 tons. It hasn’t changed much. In the mean time the population has more than doubled, so 1950 US patterns of consumption would clearly be disastrous for the planet.

    How much do we actually need to cut emissions by to reach stability? This estimate suggests we need to have per capita emissions of 460kg. That’s about ten times less than the US in 1950, and still a bit lower than nations emerging from a devastating war.

    So, simply cutting consumption alone without changing our energy profile too is not going to work. We need to produce less CO2 per dollar/Euro/yen we make. What do we know about attempts to do that?

    If you look at this page:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_ratio_of_GDP_to_carbon_dioxide_emissions

    and then look up their electricity sectors, you’ll find that all but one of the industrial countries with the most CO2 efficient economies are those which have a large amount of either hydro (eg Norway, Brazil), nuclear (eg France) or both (eg Sweden, Switzerland) making their electricity for them. (Iceland is an exception; it has a tiny population that can survive off its geothermal resources, something Japan with a population 400 times bigger can’t do). Hydropower depends on your geography; it can’t be deployed everywhere in sufficient amounts.

    So it seems that nuclear isn’t obsolete, otherwise we’d find other industrial countries in that mix generating their electricity from other sources.

    Would you like to clarify your suggestion that the middle of the twentieth century had energy use patterns that are sustainable with the world population we have today?

    • philippesama

      It is.

  • Sam Gilman

    What would be a better choice of reading and what are your criteria for that choice?

    • philippesama

      Jacques Prévert

  • greenthinker2012

    Or doing what poor people with no choice do all over the world when it is cold….burn old tires, denude the surrounding countryside of wood and have lots of children to offset the ones that die early.
    I prefer the option of clean, safe abundant energy offered by nuclear power. A bright, promising energy rich future for our children. Sorry but I am not going to choose one or the other of your false dichotomy of choices.

    • philippesama

      It is clear that you have a real personal experience of the life of “poor people.”

      These are not “poor people” who destroy forests, but your dear friends industrials.

      These are not “poor people” who enjoy your electricity flows but contemptuous rich like you.

  • philippesama

    The grinding spirits machine works at full capacity. Wherever we talk about energy, there is always some zealous mercenaries who make copy pasted their “manual of the perfect radionuclide’s defender.” They all provided for propaganda and nothing to compensate nuclear disaster, strange choice.

  • philippesama

    The first evidence is that nuclear plant explode regularly.

    The second is that it pollutes dramatically for hundreds, thousands, millions of years.

    The third is that the nuclear industry spends far more money for propaganda than for safety.

    There are many others, but these 3 evidences are enough to sweep aside any fallacious arguments from professionals as virulent as they could be.

    • greenthinker2012

      In reply to your assertions…
      First there have only been 2 explosions in the history of nuclear power. The total death toll from these accidents over the last 25 years is less than the number of people who die each and every year from fossil fuel burning.
      Second the pollution is not dangerous for thousands or millions of years. People are already moving back into Chernobyl and Fukushima.
      Third is just conspiracy junk thinking without any evidence.

      • greenthinker2012

        Upon reflection I realize that your assertions are a red herring because nobody is trying to build more of these ancient reactors. A parallel example is to look at the beginning of aviation. There were accidents that occurred and then the industry learned from their mistakes. Now air travel is one of the safest forms of travel available.
        The same is true with modern nuclear power plant designs. They are safer than ever and can withstand every conceivable scenario.

      • philippesama

        Try thinking before talking.

        Same old story. Brand new is always fantastic, but time show clearly it was not.

        If your nuclear industry learned from their mistake you would have stopped everything in 1979 after Three Mile Island.

        Whatever the technology you are unable to control a serious accident while the rest is barren and deadly propaganda.

      • philippesama

        More the lie is enormous more it is credible, your way?

        Today we learn from a professional (beginner) of the disinformation that the radiation are not dangerous. We are told that the Japanese are frolicking happily dressed in simple T-shirts in the middle of the Fukushima ruined plant. Sooo much fun, really.

      • greenthinker2012

        You are simply “off your rocker”.
        Your posts don’t even make sense anymore.

    • Sam Gilman

      All three of your claims are clearly false. To be honest, the first one is so silly that part of me wonders if you’re actively trying to discredit anti-nuclear voices on here by calculatedly appearing to have a troubled relationship with reality.

      The third is, as Greenthinker points out, pure conspiracy theory. Would you be happy to identify as a conspiracy theorist?

      • philippesama

        Haha! The old monkey flies to the rescue of the young padawan ^ _ ^

        You should fire him, he is not even funny.

        About the details, I’ll answer later …

  • greenthinker2012

    The numbers show that it is clean safe and abundant.

    • philippesama

      The numbers shows only numbers

  • philippesama

    Nobody can control a molten corium.

    So since the beginning of the nuclear industry, they claimed that the probability of an accident of this type amounted to thousands of years. And so this incapacity was not a problem.

    We see now, after losing control of at least 5 reactor cores, it is a major risk, with a frequency of about ten years. And still no hope to stop it and protect the world population. It was one of the first outright lies used by those people to appease a hostile public opinion. There have been many others equally incredible manipulations.

    With aging plants and breathless industry, the risk is global, enormous, out of control.

    Only an immediate and permanent cessation of all nuclear plants will prevent another disaster.

  • philippesama

    How dare even talk about environment protection after Chernobyl, after Fukushima, with millions of tons of highly toxic waste from your beloved industry.

    You must have at least decency not to say anything.

  • philippesama

    Your casualness face to the countless victims of nuclear for over 70 years is indecent.
    You can manipulate numbers, you can ignore the sick, you can pretend that you’re not responsible, you can pretend not to know the isotopes, you can use your power to hide the truth…
    But be certain that one day you will be judged for your crimes.

  • philippesama

    You confuse controlling and hiding under the carpet. The coriums in Three Mile Island, Tchernobyl and Fukushima are still doing what they want. We do not even talk about all the accidents never confessed. They pass through meters of concrete in a few hours, they will be extremely virulent and toxic for hundreds of years. Meanwhile the so-called “experts” make beautiful assumptions fine reports, but nothing concrete and effective. They just forgot to provide that it could happen. The original sin of pride that affects all this criminal industry.