Two tasks for the opposition

The Abe administration’s plan to change the interpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense and its push for a bill to allow the government to designate almost all information concerning defense and security as “special secrets” — thus jeopardizing freedom of the press and the people’s right to know — are dangerous moves that must be thoroughly discussed by the Diet in the current extraordinary session that started Oct. 15.

The Diet also must fully scrutinize the Abe administration’s moves to restart some of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors that are now offline. The opposition parties should highlight the irrationality of the government and power industry’s efforts to restart the dormant nuclear plants at a time when the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant continues — and growing worse in some respects — and in view of the fact that Japan is an extremely quake-prone country and that another large-scale nuclear accident would cause irreparable damage.

Mr. Banri Kaieda, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, posed questions concerning the leaks of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Mr. Abe said that the government will push forward efforts to solve the issue.

Mr. Abe also said that the situation at the nuclear power plant is “under control as a whole” as the “effect” of radioactive substances from the plant is contained inside the harbor adjacent to the plant.

But the facts — worsening leaks and rising radiation levels — do not support his claim. It is also unclear what kind of structure a government organization set up to cope with the contaminated leaks will take and who will be responsible for specific work inside the organization. Although the government plans to build a wall of frozen soil to block the intrusion of ground water into the nuclear plant site, thorough discussions have not been carried out to determine whether this is the best method to stop the leaks. And few people feel that Mr. Abe’s replies are convincing.

More importantly the DPJ should challenge the Abe administration on the wisdom of its move to restart the nuclear reactors. When it was in power, the DPJ government’s position was that all available means should be mobilized so that Japan could cease nuclear power generation in the 2030s.

The DPJ and other opposition parties must point out the serious problems related to nuclear power generation and present policy proposals to drastically increase the weight of renewable energy sources in Japan’s power-generation portfolio.

In addition to the constant threat posed by natural disasters to the nation’s nuclear reactors, if the reactors are restarted, the nuclear waste storage facilities at each plant will become full in several years. And because technology to safely store high-level radioactive waste on a permanent basis has yet to be established, nuclear waste has the potential to cause grave environmental problems for tens of thousands of years. It is ethically untenable to saddle future generations with such a dangerous burden.

The DPJ and other opposition parties must strongly oppose the government and power industry’s plan to restart nuclear power plants. They should instead push alternative policies that can end Japan’s dangerous reliance on this dangerous source of energy.