With the Liberal Democratic Party’s sweeping election victory Sunday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to increase his efforts to revive nuclear power despite persistent public opposition.
Although polls show that most people are against restarting reactors idled following the 2011 Fukushima crisis, Abe has continued to promote nuclear as a key source of energy, arguing its use is necessary to maintain stable and cheap electricity in resource-poor Japan.
Abe hopes early next year to restart two reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, which in September became the first to meet tighter, post-Fukushima safety regulations.
Another two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama power station in Fukui Prefecture, currently in the final phase of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s screening process, could also go back online within 2015.
However, as restarting nuclear plants did not take center stage in the election, partly because Abe avoided focusing on the contentious issue, critics say the LDP’s victory cannot be taken as a vote of confidence regarding this issue.
In a rare mention during the campaign, Abe delivered a speech in Kagoshima Prefecture last Thursday arguing that nuclear power is necessary to protect jobs.
Local leaders in Kagoshima have already given the green light to restarting the power plant, but residents doubt that sufficient discussions have been held.
“I feel frustrated that there was no debate on the nuclear issue” during the election, a 44-year-old company employee who did not want to give his name said after voting.
With the election already in its rear view mirror, the LDP faces the task of deciding the nation’s long-term energy policy, another issue Abe was reluctant to discuss during the campaign.
The process of deciding the country’s energy mix, including the percentages of electricity to be generated by nuclear power and renewable sources, could be further delayed amid uncertainty over how many reactors will resume operations down the road, while Komeito, the coalition’s junior member, has pledged to completely phase out nuclear power in the future.