Tokyo election goes nuclear

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Whether the powers that be liked it or not, nuclear power took center stage in a debate involving four major candidates for the Tokyo gubernatorial election that was streamed live on the Internet Saturday.

Three of the candidates came out firmly against atomic power.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has done its best to keep the issue out of voters’ minds ahead of Sunday’s race, framing it as a national, rather than local, concern.

Packed with Abe allies, public broadcaster NHK appears to be downplaying the matter. A noted economics professor resigned last week as a commentator after being told not to discuss the nuclear issue until after the election on Sunday “to ensure fairness.”

But the debate, hosted by seven online firms including Dwango Co., Ustream Asia Inc. and Yahoo Japan Corp., has shown that nuclear power is very much an issue inside the mainstream.

“We have to break away from the system that depends on nuclear energy in the long run, considering the dismal state (caused by the Fukushima crisis),” former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe, 65, said during the 90-minute debate, which, according to the organizers, was seen by some 170,000 people.

Previously noncommittal on the issue, Masuzoe said new energy sources, including shale gas and renewables, could be developed to reduce Japan’s dependence on atomic power.

Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, running on an anti-nuclear platform, stressed that the issue is relevant to Tokyo residents.

“The principal duty of the Tokyo governor is to protect the lives of its citizens. . . . The nuclear issue would directly affect the people’s lives,” Hosokawa, 76, said.

If elected, Hosokawa said the metropolitan government would ask Tokyo Electric Power Co. to start using more renewable energy sources to replace nuclear power.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is the fourth-largest shareholder in the utility, with a stake of 1.20 percent.

Another opponent is Kenji Utsunomiya, former chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

“Nuclear power generation is not suitable in Japan, which has been hit by many earthquakes and tsunami,” the 67-year-old said. “We should not restart the idled reactors.”

Utsunomiya warned of the possibility of huge expenditures being needed to compensate nuclear accident victims and the high cost of decommissioning any reactors involved in a nuclear power plant accident.

Taking the opposite view, Toshio Tamogami, a former chief of the Air Self-Defense Force, said that nuclear power has been made sufficiently safe and was vital to Japan from an economic perspective.

The higher electricity rates stemming from the cost of importing fuel for the traditional power plants being used to offset the absence of atomic power is weighting heavily on small and midsize firms, the 65-year-old Tamogami said.

“I think many of those firms would go bankrupt” if the reactors are kept offline, Tamogami argued. “We could provide enough energy with the use of nuclear power plants and it could contribute to growth of the nation’s gross domestic product.”

Another issue the candidates debated was the proposal to legalize casinos. Some lawmakers want to build casino resorts in time for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

Hosokawa and Utsunomiya are firmly against the idea, citing the detrimental influence they would have on young people and the threat of gambling addiction.

Tamogami, on the other hand, said casinos would attract wealthy tourists from around the world.

Masuzoe hedged, saying only that the matter needs further study and debate.

Turning to the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, Masuzoe said he would like the Olympics and Paralympics to be the best and most hospitable ever and urged all citizens to cooperate.

“I’d like participating countries to hold training camps in the Tama area (west of the 23 wards). . . . I also urge citizens to learn English so that all can be a guide (to visiting athletes and guests),” he said.

Tamogami said by holding a “lavish” Olympics he would like to hear foreign athletes and guests say they want to return to Tokyo.

“Japan has been suffering from deflation, and spending on public works projects could contribute to the economic recovery. I’d like to hold the best-ever Olympics in history by investing heavily (in key facilities),” he said.

Hosokawa said he would like to hold a “sustainable” Olympics, indicating plans to review the extravagant facilities being planned, and bring about a successful Olympics that makes use of renewable energy instead of nuclear power.

Hosokawa also said he would like to share the benefits from the Olympics and Paralympics with the people of Tohoku.

Lawyer Utsunomiya said he sees the need to make the Olympics simple and environmentally friendly without spending large amounts of money and by refurbishing existing facilities.

Utsunomiya also pointed to the need to make the city easier for the disabled to live in to have a successful Paralympics. Efforts should be made to make the city more barrier-free, he said.

  • d taylor

    Maybe high electricity costs could be offset for users by giving them the $100 billion (10 trillion in aid) instead of Tepco. Maybe Tepcos profit is fake? Of course it is. What industry gets to pollute the planet for 80 million years and not pay a cent.

    In California there is so much cheap solar power PG&E is trying to stop buying contracted solar because it cannibalizes existing plants. Green is only green until the bottom line goes red.

    Japan can solve all its entergey needs with alternatives. If solar power had been given 10 trillion yen that would be a start.

    • Mike O’Brien

      Solar power can not supply base load power. Base load plants will always be necessary and the choice is to use fossil fuel plants that add CO2 and many pollutants to the air we breath every day or nuclear plants which with the latest designs are safer than just about any other industrial facility.
      PG&E’s problem with solar is that due to its intermittent nature it destabilizes the grid. The regulations also force them to buy all the solar produced whether their is a demand for it or not. Their customers really don’t like paying for electricity that is not used.

  • gokyo

    How is it that nuclear power is not a local issue? The government is worried that as Tokyo goes so goes the nation. Any change has to come from the people not the government, that is if Japan is still a democratic state. Abe’s government is trying to control the outcomes of elections at every level, the fairness and accuracy of the news reported domestically, and internationally, and what the people are allowed to be exposed to educationally concerning geography and history yet he says we should “trust him.” Many refer to him and his policy as ‘nationalism’ but at what point does it become ultra-nationalism?

    • Mike O’Brien

      And a recent poll shows the voters place nuclear power as a distant 4th in their list of concerns for the election. So since the voters are the ones that really matter it would appear that Abe’s government is following the voters lead.

  • Lee Vann

    Fission reactors should be phased out when we have fusion up and going. This is because of the need to maintain baseload on the grid at all times. the only two ways we have of doing that now are fossil fuels and nuclear.

    However, we should be decommissioning all first and second gen reactors asap. They should be replaced by third and fourth gen reactors that are fail safe when they lose external cooling. We have designs that do not suffer from the problems of past reactors. We just need regulators and power companies to start building them.

    Japans main problem is incompetent regulators. This is in large part due to regulatory capture. The way to fix this is not to abandon nuclear, but to get better regulators. When done properly Nuclear is a safe and clean alternative to fossil fuels.