JAPAN | Kan says Japan should aim for nuclear-free society

Posted on July 14, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 14 July 2011

Japanese Prime Minister Nato Kan speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Friday, April 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Wednesday that Japan should aim for a society that does not depend on nuclear power in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, but denied the possibility of calling for a general election over energy issues.

Kan made his strongest pledge to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power since he took office a little over a year ago. Still, apart from calling for more conservation efforts and use of renewable energy, he stopped short of saying by when and how Japan will aim for the new goal.

Whether the dramatic shift in Japan’s energy policy will materialize is also unpredictable as it was proposed by Kan who has faced mounting pressure to quit immediately, even from lawmakers within his own ruling party.

Environmentalists, nevertheless, said Kan’s commitment is historic and should merit high praise.

“Considering the huge risk of a nuclear accident, I have really felt that this technology cannot be controlled by conventional safety measures,” Kan said at a news conference, held for the first time since June 27.

“So I have come to realize…that Japan should aim for a society that does not depend on nuclear power generation” by phasing out such energy “systematically and in stages.”

There was speculation that Kan, a strong proponent of increasing the use of renewable energy, might dissolve the lower house this summer, timed with memorial ceremonies for the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki more than 60 years ago, to try to break the political stalemate.

But Kan said he is not “at all considering whether to dissolve” the chamber in connection with nuclear issues, although he said Japan’s future energy policy needs to be eventually decided by the public.

The latest remarks came after the government’s announcement Monday that two-step additional safety assessments dubbed “stress tests” will be conducted on Japan’s nuclear facilities.

The announcement has raised concern among business leaders about summer power shortages that could hurt the economy.

Kan, who could resign next month, said Japan is capable of overcoming power shortages in the summer and winter peak seasons, even if nuclear reactors shut for routine checkups do not resume, as long as the public and the industry continue to cooperate in saving energy.

In this March 20, 2011 aerial file photo taken by a small unmanned drone and released by Air Photo Service, the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture. From top to bottom: Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3 and Unit 4.  (AP Photo/Air Photo Service)

In this March 20, 2011 aerial file photo taken by a small unmanned drone and released by Air Photo Service, the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture. From top to bottom: Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3 and Unit 4. (AP Photo/Air Photo Service)

He said the government is preparing to release electricity supply forecasts for this year “in the not-too-distant future” and from next year plans must be made by thinking of using more natural gas to help offset a power shortage by nuclear generation facilities.

Nuclear reactors idled for periodic inspections now need to pass the first phase of the tests — which will gauge to what extent they can tolerate massive earthquakes, tsunami and other phenomena beyond their present designed capacity — before restarting.

The second phase of the tests will be more comprehensive and target all 54 of the country’s reactors.

The premier said the suspended reactors could operate again if their safety is ensured.

Four months after the Fukushima plant was crippled by a tsunami, only 19 reactors are running in Japan, while local governments have been reluctant to allow those that have been taken offline to resume as many residents are concerned about their safety.

Before the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years at the Fukushima plant, nuclear power accounted for about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity supply.

Kan, in office since June last year, has been criticized for his perceived lack of leadership in dealing with the aftermath of the March disaster. His approval ratings have dropped to less than 20 percent in recent weeks.

On June 2, Kan survived a no-confidence motion by promising to hand over to the younger generation, once certain progress is made in rebuilding the disaster-stricken northeastern region and containing the nuclear crisis.

An artist's drawing of a solar power generation system that the University of Tokyo's endowed chair is planning to build in Saudi Arabia. (Courtesy of the University of Tokyo)

An artist’s drawing of a solar power generation system that the University of Tokyo’s endowed chair is planning to build in Saudi Arabia. (Courtesy of the University of Tokyo)

In his previous news conference, Kan said he would step down after securing parliamentary passage of the forthcoming extra budget for additional disaster-relief measures, a bill to enable the government to issue bonds to fund about 40 percent of the revenue planned in this fiscal year’s annual budget through March 31 and a bill to promote the use of renewable energy.

The second extra budget for fiscal 2011 is expected to be enacted this month, but it remains uncertain whether the two bills can be approved by winning enough support from opposition parties during the current Diet session, which will run through Aug. 31, as they have been calling for his early resignation for months.

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