National

New ministers pledge no interruption to nuclear policy, female empowerment

by Kazuaki Nagata and Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writers

On his first day in his new job, industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa said Tuesday he will soon be ready to visit communities near nuclear power plants, apparently pledging to maintain the momentum for reactor restarts.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has cleared the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, and all that remains before it fires up once more is for the central government to secure local approval.

“Of course, I’d like to visit Kagoshima as soon as possible,” Miyazawa said as he began work as minister of economy, trade and industry.

His predecessor, Yuko Obuchi, resigned Monday over a political funds scandal.

At his first news conference at the ministry, Miyazawa, 64, said he doesn’t know exactly when he will visit Kagoshima as he has to work out the timing with various municipalities and the prefectural government.

The Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly had been asking Obuchi to go there and explain in person why the central government believes the two reactors at the plant in Satsumasendai should be fired up once more.

A visit is seen as critical to securing the understanding of local communities.

The two Sendai units are the only reactors that have so far cleared new safety hurdles created by the NRA in response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The central government wants to restart reactors that clear the NRA’s checks, but some observers have said they believe the shake-up in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the nuclear industry, may slow the process.

Miyazawa, the nephew of the late Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, said he will steadily push ahead with reactor restarts, saying his job is to promote “responsible energy policies.”

The new METI chief said nuclear will remain a “baseload power source” for the country.

But he also said Japan must explore ways to boost its use of renewable energy to lower the reliance on nuclear power.

Meanwhile, new Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa defended the Abe administration’s push to empower women in the workforce despite the sudden resignations Monday of two female Cabinet ministers.

Kamikawa replaced Midori Matsushima, who resigned over distributing free “uchiwa” fans to voters in her electoral district in Tokyo. Such gratuities are prohibited by the election campaign law.

“I insist that women be more proud of their abilities and I, as justice minister and a female politician, think I bear a great responsibility in enabling them to demonstrate their competence,” Kamikawa said.

She added that she has already told ministry staff she intends to actively utilize female employees within the ministry and help them achieve a better work-life balance.

Kamikawa stopped short of clarifying her position on capital punishment, saying she will follow her predecessors in “acting within the current legal framework.” The comment appeared to suggest she will uphold the death penalty.

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