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What will happen to Japan's nuclear industry?

October 5, 2017


Nuclear power clash shaping up between ruling, opposition parties





A three-way battle appears set to unfold during the general election campaign over the fate of Japan's nuclear power industry, with the ruling parties pushing reactor restarts, conservative opposition forces favoring a planned phase-out, and centrist and left-wing parties pulling for elimination as soon as possible.

While most opposition parties -- the conservative Party of Hope, and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) in the center and on the left -- want an end to nuclear power, none have so far presented a concrete plan to eliminate it. This lack of specificity makes it hard to foresee debate on the issue reaching any depth during the campaign.


The new Party of Hope, led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, has vowed to shut down all Japan's reactors by 2030, putting it one step ahead of the disintegrating Democratic Party (DP)'s promise to do so "in the 2030s." Speaking on Oct. 4, Koike revealed her intention to make the zero nuclear power pledge a major pillar of her party's platform, stating, "If we don't do what the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has failed to do, then we cannot return Japan to its previous vigor."


Koike was obviously attempting to play up a clear difference between the Party of Hope and the LDP to woo voters. However, Koike's nuclear power promise is essentially the same as the DP's, in that it has not come with a clear schedule to make it a reality. Meanwhile, the party's election ally Nippon Ishin has not taken a clear anti-nuclear power position.


The newly minted CDP is also following in the nuclear power policy footsteps of the DP, and has promised to rid Japan of reactors as soon as possible. In an emailed newsletter sent on Oct. 4, CDP leader Yukio Edano stated, "We will put our greatest efforts into eliminating nuclear power even a day earlier," and also pledged to "release concrete details of the process and a work schedule" towards that end.


When the LDP released its election manifesto on Oct. 2, party policy chief Fumio Kishida stated, "If the debate on nuclear power is boiled down to a choice between saying 'yes' or 'no' to eliminating it, then no proper explanation is possible. As the political party responsible, we will present our thinking based on the full context of the issue including background aspects." However, despite Kishida's comments, nuclear power is not among the LDP's six main platform points.


The party's more detailed "policy bank" campaign pledge document declares that nuclear power "will be used to provide for (Japan's) base load power needs, on the precondition that safety is guaranteed." Junior coalition partner Komeito's platform, meanwhile, says the party will "aim for zero nuclear power." The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long lived with this conflicting policy position within the ruling coalition, while at the same time pushing for the restart of reactors that meet post-Fukushima meltdown safety standards.


Furthermore, only the JCP and SDP have declared their clear opposition to these restarts, with the NRA giving the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture a passing safety grade on Oct. 4. All the other parties would allow reactor restarts under certain conditions, and are competing with each other over how strongly they can impress the public with their goal of eliminating nuclear power.


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