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Edano - Restart nuclear reactors to avoid "confusion in society"

April 23 ,2012-04-23



Edano's take on restarting nuclear power plants in Japan



Has Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano been wavering over the restarting of nuclear reactors in Japan? Last weekend I met and interviewed him, and the comment that left the greatest impression on me was: "I don't want to become a Robespierre."

Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), was a leader in the French Revolution, and his name is symbolic of the Reign of Terror. Robespierre was a lawyer faithful to ideals. Once he grasped power, however, he introduced radical reforms and executed political foes, and in the end he himself was executed.

Edano considers the choice not to restart any of the nuclear reactors in Japan that have been shut down for inspections to be a kind of radical reform. He thinks that if he speedily progresses in this direction, confusion could spread and he could end up further away from the ideal of being free from reliance on nuclear power. In the interview below, Edano's gradualist approach is evident.


Question: Have you been amending your statements as a result of third parties' moves?

Edano: "No, that's not the case. I'm fundamentally in favor of abandoning nuclear power generation, but if all nuclear power plants remain out of operation, it will force unreasonable power restrictions and electricity charge price increases, small- and medium-sized companies will collapse, and employment will become unstable in a chain of events that will cause confusion in society. And if that happens, then the momentum that has built up toward breaking away from nuclear power will die out, reliance (on nuclear plants) will return in force, and we'll be helpless to do anything about it. For me, that's the scariest scenario."

Q: I think there should be a mid-term vision for reform. What are your thoughts on this?

Edano: "In terms of political theory, I think that's right, but if we release something that's half-baked, then we'll be caught out and pay the price. It's not the kind of thing that can be easily released.

"One major factor is the regulation on decommissioning nuclear reactors after 40 years (legislation that sets the life of a nuclear reactor at 40 years, which has already been submitted to the Diet as a bill). If the bill is passed and we gain a grip on governmental and ministerial ordinances, then we'll be able to do quite a lot."

(If the restarting of reactors is allowed but construction of new reactors is not allowed, then the rate of reliance on nuclear power will fall to 15 percent by 2030 -- half the level marked before the March 2011 disasters that triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. After this nuclear reactors will continue to decline in number, leaving none in operation in 2050.)

Q: Has there been any clash in opinions between you and (Democratic Party of Japan Policy Research Council Acting Chairman Yoshito) Sengoku?

Edano: "We share the opinion that if we suddenly stopped using nuclear power plants, then circumstances would become quite difficult. I think this would eventually result in a return to dependence on nuclear power plants, and I think Mr. Sengoku probably feels the same way."


Sengoku has the role of handling the administration's energy policies, and observations that he is leading the process are widespread, but at a Democratic Party of Japan gathering of members of the House of Representatives in Tokushima on April 15, Sengoku had the following to say:

"The media likes the scenario of a conspiracy, with somebody pulling the strings behind the scenes. I don't really care (if such things are written about me), but if the formation of mid- to long-term policies become distorted as a result of that, then it becomes serious. ... It's a case of us adopting realistic methods to find solutions to the homework that the Liberal Democratic Party procrastinated on, one issue at a time, as we move toward an ideal situation."

Unlike Robespierre, both Edano and Sengoku embrace realism, and say they are willing to allow nuclear reactors to be restarted to prevent confusion in the economy. Indeed, not restarting reactors may result in economic confusion. But it may turn out that we can get by without restarting them. Since there are no trustworthy predictions, public opinion becomes divided. I want to understand the government's decisions, but with so little to go by, I'm not really able to.

Looking at the situation simply from a safety perspective, the decision to restart the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture is questionable. I have no confidence that the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear crisis have been adopted.

I want people to refrain from calling those who wish to break away from nuclear power and who question the restarting of reactors as "extremists." I want them to be sensitive about the deterioration of realism. And these are the things I seek from the leaders of a moderate faction. (By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)


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