JAPAN | Kan’s possible successors unwilling to wave anti-nuclear banner

Posted on July 19, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 19 July 2011

Naoto Kan’s dream of creating a society free of nuclear power appears destined to die when his reign as prime minister expires.

No politician considered a possible successor is taking up Kan’s call to decommission all of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

In fact, almost all prominent Cabinet ministers and executives of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan who have supported Kan appear reluctant to go along with his nuclear-free idea.

On a nationally televised news conference July 13, Kan said the nation should work toward building a nuclear-free society by phasing out its reliance on nuclear energy. He later said that was a “personal opinion” and not government policy.

Still, nuclear energy is increasingly not expected to become a prominent issue in the DPJ presidential election to pick Kan’s successor.

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, considered a leading candidate, was asked about a future without nuclear energy on July 16 in Yokohama.

“While that may be possible as a ‘dream’ of an individual, it will not be easy for the central government to make it a precondition,” Noda said.

Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said in a speech in Kobe on June 26: “In the area covered by Kansai Electric Power Co., 40 percent (of the electricity supply is generated) by nuclear power plants. Manufacturing will not be able to continue if the nuclear plants are stopped.”

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, another politician who had propped up the Kan administration, also brushed aside the prime minister’s suggestion.

“I do not see the point of expressing what is simply one’s wish at a news conference,” Sengoku said.

DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada was also negative about Kan’s argument.

“We also have to avoid a situation in which there is an increase in the volume of emissions of greenhouse gases,” he said. “I wonder how much we can depend on natural energy.”

Sumio Mabuchi, the former transport minister who recently stepped down as a special adviser to Kan, told his close associates that the prime minister had stolen his idea to move away from nuclear energy.

While some of Mabuchi’s allies still want him to enter the DPJ presidential election with the slogan of phasing out nuclear energy, Mabuchi has not taken a bold stance on the issue, at least not publicly.

“After reconsidering the safety technology standards, those reactors that can be operated should do so,” Mabuchi said. “Decisions on whether a new reactor should be constructed should be made after further technological advances are made.”

Other possible successors understand Kan’s stance as an ideal, but they also realize how difficult it would be to achieve.

Among those expressing such a view are Shinji Tarutoko, a former DPJ Diet Affairs Committee chairman, and Sakihito Ozawa, a former environment minister.

A major reason behind the reluctance of DPJ politicians to embrace an anti-nuclear stance is because the opposition Liberal Democratic Party continues to hold close ties to the electric power industry and is strongly opposed to any move away from nuclear energy.

Having seen the Diet gridlock block so many initiatives of the Kan administration, potential DPJ presidential candidates want to avoid a full-fledged confrontation with the LDP over energy policy.

Koichiro Genba, the state minister in charge of national policy, has called for a reduced dependence on nuclear energy.

On July 16, Genba told reporters in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, that a major requirement of the next prime minister will be the ability to bring about cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties.

“The new prime minister should be chosen after gaining an agreement with the opposition beforehand on such issues as reform of the social security and taxation systems and energy policy,” Genba said.

However, a recent public opinion poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun found 77 percent of respondents in favor of eventually doing away with nuclear energy.

That has led some within the DPJ to say that an anti-nuclear energy candidate in the DPJ presidential election held after Kan resigns could gain more votes.

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Posted in: JAPAN