Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and former House of Representatives member Matsutaro Shoriki played a key role in Japan’s post-war policy of promoting nuclear power generation.
Nakasone emphasized the safety and necessity of nuclear power plants as he proposed the Atomic Energy Basic Bill at a House of Representatives special committee on the promotion of science and technology in December 1955.
“Nuclear power used to be a violent animal, but has now become a farm animal. Japan should increase its national strength through the promotion of nuclear power in an effort to gain a rightful place in the international community,” Nakasone told the panel at the time.
Tokyo was motivated to introduce nuclear power by then U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower’s speech at a U.N. General Assembly session in December 1953 calling for the peaceful use of atomic energy.
Immediately after the Soviet Union was successful in testing a hydrogen bomb, the United States sought to strengthen the unity of the Western bloc and increase its influence by providing atomic power technology to its allies. The United States then decided to provide such technology to Japan, which had been banned from developing atomic energy since the end of World War II.
Shoriki, former owner of the Yomiuri Shimbun national daily who became the first chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, as well as Nakasone, led a campaign for the peaceful use of atomic energy in an effort to convince the public of this atomic bombed country.
A now declassified U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) document describes the process of introducing nuclear power to Japan. It states that since its relations with Podam (a code name given to Shoriki) had been matured, the United States could probably offer to cooperate on the issue.
The document suggests that Japan’s nuclear power development progressed as an important part of the U.S. world strategy.
Nakasone and other legislators submitted a draft of a state budget — which was revised to include budget allocations for nuclear power development outlays for the first time in history — to the Diet in March 1954.
Two years later, three nuclear power-related laws, including the Atomic Energy Basic Law, came into force, establishing a system under which the national government works out a basic plan on nuclear power generation and electric power companies implement such plans.
The construction of nuclear power stations gained momentum following the first oil crisis in 1973. Then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was successful in having three power grid laws — aimed at providing massive amounts of subsidies to municipalities that host nuclear power plants and surrounding municipalities — into law. Following the passage of the laws, offering to host nuclear power plants became a quick way for local bodies to secure funds.
The government never changed its promotion of nuclear power generation even after the myth of the safety of nuclear power plants was destroyed with the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear crises in 1979 and 1986, respectively, while movements to rely less on nuclear power gained momentum in the United States and Europe.
The ratio of nuclear power to all electric power generated in Japan, which had stood at 5.4 percent in fiscal 1974, kept steadily increasing and peaked in fiscal 1998 at 36.8 percent.
However, the Fukushima nuclear crisis has destroyed the government’s policy of promoting atomic energy.
At a news conference on July 13, Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared that he will pursue a society without nuclear energy.
Moreover, the government’s Energy and Environment Council announced on July 29 that it decided to scrap its basic plan on energy, which called for an increase in the ratio of nuclear power to Japan’s total power generation to 53 percent by 2030, and decrease its dependence on nuclear power plants.
The largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which had promoted nuclear power while in government for decades, has begun to drastically change its energy policy.
There are still calls urging that nuclear power stations be retained from some local governments that have relied on subsidies in return for hosting nuclear power stations and from business circles that are worried about a possible rise in electricity charges.
Once the Fukushima nuclear crisis is brought under control, calls may arise again within the political world for the promotion of nuclear power generation. (By Naoki Oita, Political News Department)