19 Septembre 2012
In a shocking reversal, the Cabinet on Wednesday failed to approve the government's new energy policy by watering down its main goal — the elimination of Japan's reliance on nuclear energy by the 2030s — in a document needed to confirm the full power of its endorsement.
The document that the Cabinet signed off on stirred speculation that it gave special consideration to big business and governments that benefit from hosting nuclear facilities, the main entities opposed to the zero option.
The endorsement document, which the government put up for the Cabinet's official decision Wednesday, drops the 2030s deadline for eliminating atomic energy and states that the government will hold talks with local governments and the international community based on the policy and "implement (the policy) by conducting ongoing studies and review."
The full document on the government's new energy strategy was meanwhile attached to the approval document as "reference material."
The government usually takes up major bills and other important issues with the entire Cabinet to ensure the result will be endorsed as a "Cabinet decision" — signaling that future Cabinets will also be held responsible for the decisions approved. If major issues are only "reported to the Cabinet" or "acknowledged by the Cabinet," however, they are considered less binding than official "Cabinet decisions."
The turnabout came after the government's new energy strategy was reported to Tuesday's meeting of the national strategic council, which consists of several private-sector experts opposed the zero-nuclear policy.
Of the five private experts on the council, three were absent from Tuesday's meeting. But Japan Association of Corporate Executives Chairman Yasuchika Hasegawa, who was in attendance, requested that the council scrap the plan to abandon nuclear power, saying it was strange.
Nobuaki Koga, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), also questioned the strategy.
Internal affairs minister Tatsuo Kawabata said the government still needed to explain the principle behind the strategy.
The government, however, claimed Wednesday that it was still sticking to the new policy, with trade minister Yukio Edano telling a news conference that its full content was "authorized" by the Cabinet because the decision says the government will take actions "based on" the strategy.
The new energy strategy announced Friday states that Japan will devote all policy resources to end nuclear power in the 2030s.
Edano did not clarify why the strategy itself was not included in the Cabinet document, saying only that there are "several ways" to handle the government's decision-making at Cabinet meetings.
Nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono separately said it was "a better way to go through such decision-making as we still have various uncertain factors."
Business lobbies have grown more vocal in their criticism of the nuclear-free goal, fearing that giving up atomic power will lead to electricity rate hikes that will adversely affect the economy.