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Japan's Unclear Nuclear Future

Government Fails to Adopt Phase-Out Plan

Written by Swagato Chakravorty
Posted September 20, 2012 at 6:08PM

Japan has been moving rapidly to distance itself from nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, but perhaps it’s been moving just a little too fast. Last week, the Japanese government announced a daring goal to completely phase out nuclear power by 2040. But just recently, an about-face occurred on that front, as businesses and communities whose economies depend on existing nuclear plants drummed up fierce opposition.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s cabinet didn’t say much that was specific, but it seemed as if the 2040 goal was off the table. The cabinet simply promised to “engage in debate with local governments and international society and to gain public understanding.”

A day before, chairmen of Japan’s biggest business associations, including the Keidanren group, assembled a joint news conference urging the Prime Minister to reconsider. Following the cabinet statement, the group immediately offered fulsome praise.

Indeed, last week’s announcement took many nuclear critics and analysts by surprise, since the plan was oddly vague. After the quick reversal, criticism mounted quickly, pointing to the government’s perceived indecisiveness.

From the New York Times:

“We’ve only seen the government strike compromise after compromise with the business community,” said Hideyuki Ban, secretary general of a nuclear watchdog, the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.

Prior to Fukushima, Japan obtained about 30 percent of its electricity needs from 54 nuclear reactors spread across the nation, and it was on track to expand that to 50 percent. After a series of public hearings indicated that Japan in general favored power sources other than nuclear, Prime Minister Noda decided to go into alternative and renewable power in a big way. After all, the public distrust in the government’s ability to safely run major nuclear power infrastructure was all but spelled out.

The shift has faced stiff opposition from businesses who criticized the government’s initiatives for not being practical enough while also hurting indigenous businesses through lapsing subsidies and resultant loss of jobs and tax revenues.

Alongside the reversal, the Japanese government also announced the opening of a new agency whose express purpose will be to oversee the nuclear sector. Unfortunately, its head, Shunichi Tanaka, has already earned widespread criticism since he has extensive history with

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