Japanese government takes less than a week to row back on nuclear pledge
LESS THAN a week after announcing it would phase out the generation of nuclear power, Japan’s government has backtracked on a commitment to phase out the country’s reactors by the 2030s
The cabinet of prime minister Yoshihiko Noda yesterday endorsed a new 20-page energy document that pledges to cut reliance on the nation’s 50 commercial reactors but drops all reference to a timetable.
A vaguely worded statement afterwards said the cabinet would take the policy document, which pledges to boost renewables to 30 per cent of the energy mix, “into consideration,” but only after winning the support of businesses and local communities.
The volte-face follows days of intense pressure from the country’s powerful business lobby.
Hiromasa Yonekura, head of the Japan business federation warned this week that the no- nuclear policy would force companies offshore, cost jobs and would damage the world’s third largest economy.
Announcing the new energy plan, trade minister Yukio Edano said policymakers alone could not decide to end atomic power by the 2030s. “It also depends on the will of [electricity] users, technological innovation and the environment for energy internationally in the next decade or two,” he said, quoted in Reuters. Last weekend Mr Edano pointed out that new reactors already green-lighted by the government would be built, despite the phase-out. Given that plants have a life of about 40 years, the announcement immediately threw the government’s timetable into doubt. Nuclear power has emerged as a key issue ahead of a general election, expected before the end of the year. Last year’s Fukushima disaster forced more than 140,000 people to evacuate and left much of the prefecture’s countryside uninhabitable.
Polls since then consistently show a majority of Japanese citizens support scrapping the country’s 50 reactors, all but two of which are offline. A string of summer demonstrations has added to the pressure on Mr Noda’s government.
Yesterday’s announcement coincided with the inauguration of a new nuclear regulator, which has also drawn criticism. State broadcaster NHK pointed out that most of the key figures in the Nuclear Regulation Authority come from the discredited bodies that regulated the industry before Fukushima. The head of the new authority, Shunichi Tanaka, is a former acting chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, which promoted nuclear power.
Anti-nuclear campaigners, opposition politicians and local governments were quick to criticise the new nuclear framework yesterday.
Motohisa Furukawa, governor of Ishikawa prefecture called the government’s policy “waffling”.