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Osaka prof: Nuclear energy unlikely to be a focus of LH election

Interviewed by Omuta Toru

 

Asahi Shimbun: Remarks made by Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in Lower House election campaign seem to reveal that his energy policy is in line with the traditional position of the Liberal Democratic Party, which emphasizes the importance of nuclear energy, and he is not too enthusiastic about promoting renewable energy sources.


Kamikawa Ryunoshin:
The Cabinet approved the sixth Basic Energy Plan that aims to replace coal-fueled energy with renewable energy as the main energy source. It was an uncontroversial solution because the administration of former prime minister Suga Yoshihide was enthusiastic about decarbonization and returning to nuclear energy is unrealistic. It has nothing to do with the election.

 

Advocating renewable energy as the main energy source won’t alienate nuclear-energy advocates, though it won’t attract other voter segments. To begin with, energy policy doesn’t loom large in voters’ minds. It is not a priority and unlikely to become the focus of the election campaign.

 

On the other hand, in discussing nuclear energy, the history and past relationships between institutions and people involved must be taken into consideration.

 

At the time of the 2011 nuclear accident at the Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, the Democratic Party administration at the time couldn’t redirect Japan’s nuclear policy toward “post-nuclear” energy due to the protest from Aomori Prefecture, which had been receiving spent nuclear fuel. Japan’s decision was also said to have been influenced by the United States, which hoped for Japan to compete with China in exporting nuclear power.

 

Ten years after the nuclear accident, people have forgotten the initial deep concern that “eastern Japan may be wiped out.” Still, the restarting of nuclear plants stalled, even under the former administration of Abe Shinzo, who enjoyed a strong support base. This was partly because of the establishment of a highly independent Nuclear Regulation Authority, per the LDP’s request, during the Democratic administration. It is also likely that the government decided restarting nuclear power plants was politically unrealistic when public opinion polls showed the majority backed abandoning nuclear energy.

 

While the initial cost of a rector was estimated to be 300 billion yen previously, it is expected to cost around 1 trillion yen now. Today it would probably be impossible to build a new reactor as deregulation of the electric power industry moves forward. I believe the government shouldn’t have initiated deregulation if it had truly hoped to pursue nuclear power. Meanwhile, if Japan had wanted to enhance energy security and halt the hemorrhaging of national wealth, it should have begun introducing renewable energy earlier. The utilities, which had led the promotion of nuclear power, were unwilling to embrace renewable energy, contributing to the slow response.

 

Japan’s election system is centered around single-seat constituencies that envisage changes of administrations between two large political parties. In this system, the competing parties’ policies tend to be presented as a package, and complex issues, including energy policy, are likely to be buried under other topics. It is unlike the proportional representation electoral system, an example of which is Germany, where the Green Party put environmental protection and phasing out of nuclear power up front and eventually joined a ruling coalition.

 

In the upcoming Lower House election, voters place priority on the economy and their livelihoods. Only a few will cast votes based on their belief in promoting or ending nuclear power. For this reason, the LDP appears to be happy to let the issue alone, not unduly stimulating discussion. I don’t think the opposition parties will be able to garner more votes by underscoring their opposition to nuclear power.

 

Kamikawa Ryunoshin, born in 1976, is a professor of law at Osaka University specializing in political process. He has authored “Politics and Electricity: A Comprehensive History of Japan’s Nuclear Policy” and other books.

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