Election spotlight on nuclear power

Whether Japan should rely on nuclear power generation will be a main theme in the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election as a result of former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s announcement Tuesday that he will run in the election on a “zero nuclear” platform.

His entry will have a great impact on the gubernatorial race as he has secured the wholehearted support of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has renounced his earlier stance favoring nuclear power and now is a strong anti-nuclear advocate, causing embarrassment to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party. One issue that is likely to come back and haunt Hosokawa, however, is his questionable borrowing of ¥100 million from Sagawa Express Co., which led to his resignation as prime minister in April 1994. He should give a full explanation.

Making a zero-nuclear goal the focus of policy debate in the gubernatorial election is both timely and welcome in view of the devastation that the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have caused and of the fact that Japan is a quake-prone country. Moreover, there is no established technology that will ensure safe storage of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants for tens of thousands years.

Kenji Utsunomiya, a former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, had already announced his candidacy focusing on abandoning nuclear power. However, Hosokawa’s entry into the gubernatorial race will likely arouse more interest than Utsunomiya’s candidacy in both the election and the nuclear issue, because Hosokawa, especially given Koizumi’s backing, wields much greater political weight.

Although the election is a local one, it will give voters in Tokyo, which has the highest energy usage among Japan’s prefectures — accounting for some 10 percent of Japan’s total electricity consumption — a chance to express their views on Abe’s energy policy. The Abe administration is pushing the restart of nuclear power plants — despite the ongoing struggle to contain the nuclear disaster in Fukushima — by overturning the Democratic Party of Japan government’s policy of ending nuclear power generation by the end of the 2030s. The DPJ government’s policy was based on nationwide deliberative polls. The Abe administration is trying to change the energy policy without taking any such step.

Tepco is effectively under the central government’s control, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Government still owns a sizable stake in the power company. If an anti-nuclear candidate becomes Tokyo governor, he could use this position to put a brake on Tepco’s attempt to restart its shuttered nuclear power plants.

More importantly, if Hosokawa becomes the top leader of Japan’s capital with the backing of Koizumi, a former LDP prime minister who was a political mentor of Abe, it will have a strong impact on the Abe administration not only in the area of energy policy but also in an overall political context.

Whether Japan should abandon nuclear power or not will be a major election issue. Given the scope of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the vulernability of nuclear power plants in this quake-prone country and the absence of technology to safely store high-level radioactive waste, clearly much is at stake regarding Japan’s future.

Hosokawa said he feels a sense of crisis because the nuclear issue relates to the question of the state’s very life and death. Koizumi said that the Tokyo gubernatorial election will be a contest between two groups — a group that thinks Japan can advance without nuclear power and a group that does not think so.

Meanwhile, former health and welfare minister Yoichi Masuzoe, another candidate, said that he also has been calling for the abandonment of nuclear power since the Fukushima crisis but that he does not follow Koizumi’s black and white thinking. He should present more details on his nuclear power policy.

While the nuclear issue is important, it is not the only pressing concern. Each candidate also must come up with policy proposals to deal with other important items such as bolstering Tokyo’s quake resistance, improving social welfare, eradicating poverty and management of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

In short, each candidate must present voters with convincing policy proposals on a variety of issues.

  • Fukushima has proven that Nuclear Power is uncontrollable. 3 years in and the ‘engineers’ and scientists have no idea how to stop it continuing to contaminate the world. 3x cores melted through the earth and into the water table. Yeah – sure, lets build more of them around the world because there’s plenty that have not exploded.

    Einstein and Oppenheimer disagreed with the idea about building nuclear power stations – I see why.

    • Starviking

      Have you references for your statements? I would be interested to learn of the cores’ definite location, as well as how Einstein and Oppenheimer expressed their opposition to NPPs.

    • Sam Gilman

      I see you’ve fallen for the incorrect meme that Einstein described nuclear power as “one hell of a way to boil water”; this was actually said by an anti-nuclear activist in the 1980s but falsely attributed to Einstein by, amongst others, New World Order conspiracy theorist Helen Caldicott. I also wasn’t aware that Oppenheimer was against nuclear power plants; he even supported the postwar development of the US nuclear weapons arsenal.

      I see you’re going all over the Internet reproducing material from some very weird sites. I thought the HatrickPenryUnbound one was particularly silly. Conspiracy theory loons hating on conspiracy theory loon Alex Jones always make me smile. His “documentary analysis” is textbook tinfoil hat stuff.

      In a situation where getting the science right is important, it’s important to have clear criteria for what good information is. What makes you choose someone like Mr Penry? He’s clearly a paranoid delusional. Even the website design screams tinfoil hat wearer.

      The situation at Fukushima is bad, but I always like to compare to get a notion of how bad things are. If you want a real scare, look up the death toll from fossil fuels such as coal, and you’ll see it’s far, far worse. We’re burning coal here to help replace nuclear, and that’s a bigger threat to the health of my children than Fukushima. Actually, in the earthquake/ tsunami, a little publicised factoid is that fires caused by our inability to control fossil fuels under stress killed far more people than Fukushima ever will. Energy is about least worst choices, not energy or no energy.

      If I were you, I’d go take a look at the actual scientific work both collated and done by the WHO and UNSCEAR on radiation and nuclear accidents before putting your name to stuff made up by people like Dr Caldicott or Mr Penry.

      As with climate change, one needs to get with the science in order to be on the right side of the argument.

  • GRLCowan

    Japanese English-language media similarly declared nuclear power a key issue in the run-up to the prime ministerial election. A photo was widely seen of an LDP representative holding up a big red X to represent opposition to nuclear shutdown, while ten losers-to-be held up go-along-to-get-along blue circles, representing acquiescence. There’s a word I never tried to spell before!

    After the election, they — you — decided nuclear energy hadn’t been a key issue after all. I expect a similar walk-back this time.

    I wonder if Japanese-language media are quite so petrodollarish.