The defeat of two anti-nuclear candidates, including former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, in Sunday’s Tokyo gubernatorial election has given the central government a boost of confidence as it prepares to move forward with an energy policy supporting the use of atomic power.
“We plan to compile a feasible and balanced Basic Energy Plan (for medium- to long-term energy policy),” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Diet committee Monday morning.
Nevertheless, Hosokawa’s attempt to focus attention on nuclear policy — a politically sensitive issue since the Fukushima nuclear crisis started in 2011 — appears to have put more pressure on Abe’s government to refrain from rushing toward endorsing a draft energy plan that has been criticized for its strong pro-nuclear tone.
Abe’s administration initially wanted to approve the plan in January, after unveiling a draft the month before praising nuclear energy as an “important base-load power source.” Base-load power refers to electricity sources that are cheap and stable and can be used continuously through the day.
The draft also said the government will push for restarting nuclear reactors that meet the country’s new safety regulations introduced last July, while effectively leaving open the possibility of building new reactors.
In the drafting process, officials of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry did not even seem to be shy about showing that METI remains a strong promoter of atomic power, despite the lingering anti-nuclear sentiment generated by the Fukushima meltdowns, which was termed a man-made disaster in part because of the industry’s cozy ties with METI.
“We have no intention at all to give up the nuclear option. The most important issue is to deliver this message outside,” Takayuki Ueda, head of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, which is under METI, said in December when briefing lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on the contents of the draft.
But the government appeared to shift toward a more cautious stance amid criticism from some LDP members who felt the draft deviated from the party’s campaign pledge for the 2012 general election. The LDP promised to strive for the establishment of social and economic structures independent of nuclear power.
Applying further brakes was the Tokyo gubernatorial election, in which Hosokawa, tying up with charismatic former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, joined the race in a bid to turn the poll into a referendum on energy policy.
Abe’s government was quick to avoid triggering a backlash over its energy policy stance.
A day after the official campaigning for the election kicked off on Jan. 23, METI Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the government would consider revising the draft energy plan to avoid “misunderstandings” that Japan seeks to rely heavily on nuclear power.
“I do not intend to change the term ‘base-load power,’ but if it is perceived as an electric source used for an extremely large amount, or given a high priority, I will consider changing the context,” Motegi told a press conference.
His remarks indicated the part of the plan that highlights the importance of nuclear power could be watered down.
Motegi also refrained from setting deadlines for establishing the new energy policy.