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Future of nuclear power looms over Japan’s LDP leadership race

  • September 9, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 6:37 a.m.
  • English Press

NAOYA YOSHINO, Nikkei political editor

 

TOKYO — As the field for the leadership race for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party takes shape, energy and environmental policy look set to play a bigger role than usual.

 

Former LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, both of whom have announced they are running, and regulatory reform minister Taro Kono, who is expected to announce Friday — have set out differing visions on the role of nuclear and renewable energy in meeting Japan’s climate goals. The administration of departing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and cut emissions 46% from fiscal 2013 levels by fiscal 2030.

 

There is particular interest in Kono’s past anti-nuclear stance, rare in a party that has traditionally favored nuclear power.

 

“Why have we called it ‘clean energy’ when it produces radioactive waste?” Kono said at a meeting of an LDP energy policy committee in July 2011, months after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns. He co-founded a cross-party alliance against nuclear power the following year.

 

Former anti-nuclear fighter Taro Kono is signaling a more open stance in recent days, with an eye on reaching zero emissions by 2050. (Photo by Yumi Kotani)
 

Kono struck a somewhat different tone speaking to reporters Wednesday, stressing widespread adoption of renewable energy as a “top priority.”

 

“Nuclear power probably will go away eventually, but I don’t intend to say ‘stop’ tomorrow or next year,” he said.

 

Kono acknowledged that restarting nuclear plants that are confirmed to be safe will be “necessary to some extent if we’re aiming for carbon neutrality.” But asked whether his thinking on the issue has changed, he asserted that “it has not.”

 

These remarks may be intended to nudge the nuclear debate out of the spotlight in the leadership race.

 

In his new book, “Move Japan Forward,” Kono writes that “things that you can’t do as a ruling-party lawmaker, you can do if you have the power of a cabinet minister. Having power means that when you have the will to do something, you can make it happen.”

 

Looking at the rest of the field, Kishida’s economic policy plans announced Wednesday include introducing renewable energy “as much as possible,” along with investment in areas such as storage batteries and modern compact nuclear reactors.

 

On the nuclear power issue, he told reporters that “it’s important to restart our existing nuclear plants before building or expanding” capacity.

 

“When we set decarbonization targets, we have to pay more careful attention to Japanese industry and think about it responsibly,” he told Nikkei in an interview last week.

 

A draft of the government’s latest energy plan released in July calls for Japan to generate 36% to 38% of its energy from renewable sources in fiscal 2030.

 

Takaichi called for the creation of an agency that will single-handedly oversee environmental and energy policy during a news conference Wednesday. She cited fossil fuels as a backup energy source to complement solar power, which is susceptible to weather conditions. She promised to further promote renewable energy sources, as well as the civilian use of nuclear power.

 

In Takaichi’s new book on plans to bolster the Japanese economy, she points out “how solar panels placed against slopes cause ground soil to be washed out when it rains,” calling for preventive measures.

 

The major point of contention in the debate is the share of each energy source in the country’s energy demand. Questions need to be asked to determine whether the shares allocated to nuclear and renewable energy as well as fossil-fuels are consistent with Japan’s carbon neutral goal and achievable. If renewable energy sources are susceptible to weather, there needs to be a debate on how to supplement them and how much such measures would cost.

 

Humans have seen the horror of global warming manifest itself in the form extreme weather, including deadly heat waves, wildfires, typhoons and torrential rain. The extent of extreme weather caused by the destruction of the planet’s ecosystem is beyond the imagination.

 

Since global warming puts people’s lives and wealth at risk, a nation’s leader must make this issue a top priority. Global cooperation is also imperative.

 

The LDP presidential election provides a venue for the candidates to make a pledge to fight global warming. At the same time, it can be an opportunity for the public to see if their plans are backed by precise estimates and feasible.

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