Abe's nuclear push gets a boost

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with newly appointed Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe (right).

THE election of Mr Yoichi Masuzoe as Tokyo governor should make it easier for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to formulate a long-term energy policy that includes the use of cheaper nuclear power in Japan.

Mr Masuzoe, a former health minister who favours restarting the country's mothballed nuclear reactors, won Sunday's election promising to gradually reduce reliance on nuclear energy.

But the media doubts whether Mr Masuzoe can keep his word, seeing that he was backed in the election by Mr Abe's two-party ruling coalition.

"Will he still promote the reduction of dependence on nuclear energy now that he has been elected?" the influential Asahi Shimbun asked in an editorial on Monday.

All of Japan's reactors are out of action as a result of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Following their own safety checks, utility companies around the country have applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart a total of 16 reactors.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Mr Abe expressed his intention to revive the idled reactors, saying: "I would like to achieve a balanced and feasible energy plan with responsibility and taking into account reality."

Until the Fukushima crisis, Japan had relied on nuclear energy for 30 per cent of its power needs. After that, the previous Democrat-led administration aimed for zero reliance by 2030.

Mr Abe, who took office in December 2012, rejected that plan but has yet to finalise his own as he continues to face a public divided on the issue of nuclear energy.

A Kyodo News survey last month found that 60.2 per cent of Japanese were against restarting nuclear reactors compared with 31.6 per cent who were for it.

Yet Mr Masuzoe's two nearest rivals in the election - former premier Morihiro Hosokawa and lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, both of whom campaigned against the use of nuclear energy - lost to him.

What probably worked against them was their call for an immediate ban, a stance many Japanese recognise as unrealistic.

Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, an anti-nuclear advocate who campaigned unsuccessfully on behalf of Mr Hosokawa, has vowed to continue his crusade against Mr Abe's promotion of nuclear power.

During 17 days of campaign speeches, Mr Koizumi told voters repeatedly: "It makes me very angry to see the government attempt to resort to the use of nuclear energy once more, forgetting there was an accident (in Fukushima)."

Despite widespread negative public sentiment, Mr Abe is bent on bringing many of the country's reactors back online.

Politically, he has little to fear as his ruling coalition controls both Houses of Parliament and national elections are not due until 2016.

Mr Masuzoe, meanwhile, has vowed that Tokyo will supply the power necessary to run the 2020 Olympic Games that it will host and not have to borrow any from neighbouring prefectures.

His plan would require the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear facility, which supplies power to the Tokyo area, to be restarted. Unfortunately, that plant is not under Mr Masuzoe's jurisdiction.

The largest of its kind in Japan, the plant is in Niigata prefecture, facing the Sea of Japan. So far, Niigata governor Hirohiko Izumida, citing the continuing Fukushima crisis, has said he will not allow the plant to be restarted.


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