3 Décembre 2012
December 3, 2012
Depending on how the public's views change in the days leading up to the House of Representatives election, the newly formed Tomorrow Party of Japan (TPJ) and Japan Restoration Party (JRP) could come away with a significant number of seats and even participate in the next administration.
The TPJ is slamming on the gas toward the abandonment of nuclear power, while the JRP has stepped on the brakes. They appear to be heading in opposite directions, but they've taken a similar approach in bringing in ready-made leaders for battle.
Putting aside how long it will take, it does not look like it will be easy for either party to eliminate nuclear power. The party leaders' public image and smooth talk alone will not be enough to surmount the three massive obstacles of Aomori Prefecture, Britain and the United States.
Like the TPJ and JRP, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) initially set off with a mishmash membership, and while imperfect, united and took on the challenge of eliminating nuclear power. It was, however, struck down by the following three obstacles.
First, there was Aomori Prefecture, where the nation's only facilities capable of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel generated by nuclear power plants are located. If Japan were to adopt a national policy toward eliminating nuclear power, Aomori Prefecture said it would no longer accept spent nuclear fuel inside its borders.
Why not? If spent nuclear fuel continued to be transported to Aomori even as fuel reprocessing became unnecessary due to the abandonment of nuclear power, Aomori would turn into a nuclear waste disposal site. Hence, Aomori made it clear it would not accept spent nuclear fuel if the country institutes a denuclearization plan. If that were to happen, however, municipalities hosting nuclear power plants would face the problem of turning into nuclear waste disposal sites themselves.
Because there was nowhere to put dangerous waste, leaders turned a blind eye to the problems and risks and continued running a shoestring operation. The DPJ was unable to change this perilous structure.
Britain was another obstacle that the DPJ faced. Japan commissions Britain and France to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. The high-level radioactive waste generated is set to be transported to an interim disposal site in Aomori Prefecture starting at the end of this year. If a non-nuclear policy were adopted and Aomori refused to take in any nuclear waste, ships carrying the nuclear waste would not be able to leave Britain.
This urgent state of affairs was precisely why the Noda administration was forced on Sept. 19 to announce the contradictory policy of continuing spent fuel reprocessing even as it aimed for zero nuclear power. According to inside sources, Cabinet members only realized this quandary a couple weeks prior to the decision.
Finally, there was protest against continued nuclear fuel reprocessing from the U.S., which is extremely sensitive to nuclear proliferation. If not to use in nuclear reactors, what, it asked Japan, could the purpose of plutonium generated through spent fuel reprocessing be, besides the production of nuclear weapons? I don't know whether the U.S. argued that a non-nuclear-but-continued-reprocessing policy taken by Japan would undermine the united front against Iran and North Korea, but in any case, it has urged Japan to continue operating its nuclear reactors.
The above three factors resulted in the Noda administration's toning down of its zero nuclear policy. The administration was able to present its vision on the future of renewable energy and an economic revitalization strategy, but failed to get at the root destabilizing domestic and foreign industries and military foundations. And it's questionable whether the TPJ or JRP will be able to accomplish what the DPJ has failed to do.
There is little ambiguity in the TPJ's arguments. However, the public has just witnessed how a once-fresh DPJ administration failed to live up to its heartfelt vows.
Meanwhile, as the JRP has broadened its appeal, its arguments have become cloudier. Acting party leader Toru Hashimoto has called for the abandonment of nuclear policy, while party leader Shintaro Ishihara has called a zero nuclear policy "absurd." How much more muddled can a party line get?
To be fair, collaboration between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito also has its inconsistencies, and not only in its views toward the establishment of a national military. The LDP has not addressed nuclear power at all, while New Komeito is calling for its abandonment.
Regardless of who takes the reins of government, it will not be easy to carry out reforms that shake Japan's industrial foundations and the international management of nuclear materials. It's not a matter that can be dealt with by closing one's eyes to the fundamental issues and worrying about electricity costs. This is an election in which we must come to understand the seriousness of the problem of nuclear waste. (By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)