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Debate over nukes only just starting

November 29, 2012

Parties battling over nuclear policy




Japan's political parties are stepping up debate over the country's nuclear policy in the run-up to next month's Lower House election.

Shiga Prefectural Governor Yukiko Kada launched a new anti-nuclear party on Wednesday. She is joined by 49 lawmakers from the opposition People's Life First party.

Kada told reporters that her party aims to phase out nuclear power by 2022, by creating a program to improve energy efficiency and to separate power generation from power distribution.

The ruling Democratic Party has pledged efforts to achieve zero reliance on nuclear power in the 2030s, and that it would allow only reactors confirmed safe by the Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart.

The opposition Communist and Social Democratic Parties want all nuclear plants shut down.

The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party has pledged to establish the best energy mix for Japan within 10 years. It says it would be irresponsible to decide now whether to eliminate nuclear power, considering its impact on people's lives and the economy.

The LDP also says it will decide within 3 years whether to restart the country's nuclear reactors.

Among the so-called third force movement, the Japan Restoration Party, whose leader is former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, advocates zero reliance on nuclear power, and calls for cutting off power grids from existing power companies to encourage participation of new distributors.

Your Party wants full liberalization of the power industry, which it claims would result in the shutdown of all nuclear plants in the 2020s.

The deputy head of the Japan Restoration Party, Toru Hashimoto, has voiced skepticism about the nuclear phase-out policy of Kada's new party.

Hashimoto said the new party's claims are largely the same as his party's, but Japanese politicians today cannot achieve what they've said.

Editorial: In-depth discussions needed on nuclear power



The founding of a party opposing nuclear power is likely to fuel further debate on whether Japan should rely on such an energy source.

Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada has founded the Japan Future Party on an anti-nuclear power platform and a few other small parties, including the People's Life First Party, led by political kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, are set to join the new group.

Since a departure from dependence on nuclear power is the core of the Japan Future Party's platform, key points of contention during the campaign for the upcoming House of Representatives election have become clearer. All political parties should boldly respond to the challenge by the new party and actively debate the issue of nuclear power and Japan's future energy policy.

The integration of anti-nuclear power forces, triggered by the establishment of the Japan Future Party, came all of a sudden as attention had been focused primarily on the moves of the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) among parties aiming to form a third political force.

The People's Life First Party, which has nearly 50 legislators, promptly decided to disband itself to amalgamate with the new party, while members of the now defunct Genzei Nippon (Tax Cut Japan), which had initially sought to join hands with former Tokyo Gov. and now JRP leader Shintaro Ishihara and his allies, are set to team up with Kada.

One cannot help but wonder about the role of political parties as disbanding and integration continue prior to the Dec. 16 general election.

Still, the significance of the new party making the issue of nuclear power the most important point of contention and fielding candidates in the lower house race should not be underestimated.

Kada explained that she set up the new party to represent voters who want to end Japan's reliance on nuclear power, saying, "There's no other political party that such voters can cast their ballots for."

The direction of Japan's energy policy should be the focal point at issue during the lower house race, considering lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Therefore, voters will strictly scrutinize the new party's specific plan to achieve "departure from dependence on nuclear power" and its feasibility. Kada said the new party will aim to shut down all nuclear power stations in Japan by 2022. This is more thorough than the DPJ's goal of ending Japan's reliance on atomic power by the 2030s.

In order to wipe away suspicions that the merger is aimed solely at attracting votes, the Japan Future Party needs to work out standards for reactivating idled nuclear reactors and show how to solve problems involving the nuclear fuel cycle project, as well as a road map toward the introduction of renewable energy and prospects for the costs of future power generation.

It goes without saying that the new party must also show the entire picture for its diplomatic and domestic policies. A group that opposes the consumption tax increase and Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will merge with the Japan Future Party, but if the new party only opposes government policies, it cannot fulfill its responsibilities as a political party.

Ozawa, a former DPJ leader, reportedly played a key role in founding the Japan Future Party. Since Kada intends to stay on as Shiga governor, whether the party can prevent a two-tier power structure will be called into question. The party also needs to show who will be its candidate for prime minister and the government framework it pursues.

It is highly likely that the third political force separate to the two main parties will be split basically into the Japan Future Party, the JRP and Your Party. These parties should show clear direction so that they can play a key role in political realignment and actively compete in the campaign for the lower house election.

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