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Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012
The elephant in the room
Despite the catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the issue of nuclear power has been given lower priority in the runup to the Dec. 16 Lower House election. But the launch of a new party, Nippon Mirai no To (Japan Future Party), by Gov. Yukiko Kada of Shiga Prefecture, a veteran environmental studies scholar, will not only help deepen discussions on the subject but also offer a concrete option for voters who are concerned about the problems posed by nuclear power. The new party's main theme is "graduation from nuclear power generation," meaning the eventual abolition of all of Japan's nuclear power reactors.
More than 20 months have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began. But some 160,000 local residents still cannot return to their homes for the foreseeable future, and decontamination of areas polluted by radioactive substances is making little progress. Fifty nuclear power plants are scattered across this quake-prone country and nuclear waste storages at individual plants do not have much room to store additional waste.
In view of this situation, Ms. Kada has made a very significant statement: "Pushing nuclear power generation only from the viewpoint of economic efficiency while forgetting the heavy responsibility for having polluted the earth with the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant not only deprives Japan of dignity as a nation but also is something that must not be condoned ethically." She proposed phasing out Japan's nuclear power plants by 2022 and called for the immediate shutdown of the Monju fast-breeder reactor, the core component of Japan's nuclear fuel cycle to produce new nuclear fuel from spent nuclear fuel.
The People's Life First, a party with 48 Lower House members headed by former DPJ leader Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, and a small party led by veteran lawmaker Mr. Shizuka Kamei and Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura have decided to dissolve themselves to merge with Ms. Kada's new party. Three Lower House members of Midori no Kaze (Green Wind) will also join it.
It is imperative that Nippon Mirai no To work out a concrete scenario and timeline for achieving its goals. It should include the development of renewable energy sources, promotion of power saving and ways to decrease import costs of natural gas for thermal power stations brought online to compensate for shuttered nuclear power plants. Additional goals should be to de-monopolize power transmission lines so that they can be used by smaller power-generation firms and to create new employment opportunities in communities hosting nuclear power plants.
Other parties will likely bash the new party by accusing it of being populist or a one-issue party. It must overcome such bashing by developing convincing economic, social and diplomatic policies. It should resist temptation to attract voters through money-splashing measures.
It also should distinguish itself from other parties — most of which are right-leaning — on the issue of the Constitution and oppose their calls for the revision of the war-renouncing Article 9 and for the exercise of the right to collective self-defense.