Japan finally seems to be shifting from nuclear power


Special To The Japan Times

Post-nuclear Japan?

Probably not any time soon, but Naoto Kan last month became Japan’s first prime minister ever to take a step in that direction. He said: “Genpatsu ni izon shinai shakai wo mezasubeki da” (“原発に依存しない社会を目指すべきだ, We should aim to be a society that does not depend on nuclear power”).

Commentators were quick to note the absence of specifics. By what date, through what measures, would this seisaku no tenkan (政策の転換, policy shift) be jitsugen suru (実現する, accomplished)? Kan has since elaborated: he would have 20 percent of Japan’s electricity come from renewable resources — sunlight, biomass, geothermal heat, water power — by 2020. Still, that agenda is little more than a glint in an outgoing prime minister’s eye. That’s in sharp contrast to Germany, which in May committed itself to phasing out nuclear power by 2022 — but jijō (事情, the circumstances) are different. In Germany, a consensus on datsu genpatsu (脱原発, eliminating nuclear power) had been slowly building for some time. For Germany, Japan’s catastrophe was the last straw — not, as for Japan itself, the first.

Japan is the only nation to have been bombed into the nuclear age. That dreadful experience might have induced second thoughts about nuclear energy, but 事情 shaped this story too. It was a starving, dying, ruined country that genshiryoku kaihatsu ni noridashita (原子力開発に乗り出した, embarked on nuclear power development) in 1954, haisen kyūnengo (敗戦九年後, nine years after the war was lost). “Yakeato kara nihon ga tachiagaru ni wa genshiryoku shika nai” (“焼け跡から日本が立ち上がるには原子力しかない, Nuclear power is the only way for Japan to rise from the ashes”), went the main current of opinion at the time, and challengers had little to offer in the way of practical alternatives. Over time, gimon ga shōjita (疑問が生じた, doubts arose), but were confined to circles hastily dubbed malcontent. Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl seven years later apparently weren’t portentous enough. You could always tell yourself it can’t happen here, and the Japanese were hardly the only ones to do so.

Gutaiteki na sochi (具体的な措置, practical measures) may have been missing from the prime minister’s address, but this much he did say: “2030 nen ni genshiryoku no hatsuden hiritsu wo 53 pāsento ni takameru naiyō da ga, sore wo hakushi tekkai” (“2030年に原子力の発電比率を53パーセントに高める内容だが、それを白紙撤回, There was a policy to raise nuclear-generated power to 53 percent [of the total] by 2030, which is hereby completely withdrawn.”).

An Asahi Shimbun yoron chōsa (世論調査, opinion poll) conducted immediately after Kan spoke showed fully 77 percent of respondents in favor of genpatsu no dankaiteki haishi (原発の段階的廃止, gradual elimination of nuclear power). Unfortunately, Kan himself is a lame duck. Just how badly his unpopularity hobbles him is made clear by a separate Asahi 世論調査 conducted several days earlier. No fewer than nana wari (七割, 70 percent) want him to konkokkai de taijin suru (今国会で退陣する, resign during the current Diet session.) Kan naikaku shijiritsu (菅内閣支持率, the Kan Cabinet’s support rate) stands at a pitiful 15 percent.

Is Kan’s unwillingness to resign what the growing ranks of his antagonists say it is, namely an ignoble determination to cling to power at all costs? Or is there something to the more charitable view that he genuinely feels himself to be a lone bulwark against an overwhelmingly pronuclear governing and bureaucratic establishment?

You’d think the events of the past four months would have shaken that establishment to its radioactive core. Shaken it, yes; to the core, no. The Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s yarase mēru (やらせメール, faked email) scam shows just how far the industry and its supporters will go. The scam involved utility employees being pressured to send pronuclear emails, supposedly as private citizens, to a government-sponsored public discussion on the unten saikai (運転再開, restart) of two temporarily offline reactors in Saga Prefecture. “Kokoro yori owabi mōshiagemasu” (心よりおわび申し上げる, I apologize from my heart”), said the utility’s president. It remains to be seen whether his rather conventional shazai (謝罪, apology) will mollify the growing fushinkan (不信感, distrust) which, if allowed to fester much longer, will end up engulfing not only the nuclear power industry and the government that has supported it, but all institutions on which civilized life depends. Even the most passive citizens can get fired up when children’s nyō (尿, urine) is testing positive for hōshasei busshitsu (放射性物質, radioactive substances), and when osen shokuhin (汚染食品, contaminated food products) are infiltrating the market and reaching consumers.

心よりおわび申し上げる hardly seems good enough.