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.

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