Japan Backpedals on "No Nukes" Policy


by James Corbett
20 September, 2012

Last week, Japan surprised the world by announcing that it plans to abandon atomic energy completely by the 2030s. But now in an abrupt turnaround, the Japanese Cabinet appears to be backpedaling on that decision, dropping any mention of the 2030s deadline in its approval of Japan's new energy policy.

The turnaround comes after a meeting Tuesday of the national strategic council, a government advisory panel that includes private sector members who are opposed to Japan's new zero-nuclear goal. Two of those in attendance at the meeting included the president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Nobuaki Koga, who questioned the government plan to scrap nuclear power, and Yasuchika Hasegawa, Chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, who called the no-nuke ambition "strange."

The original plan to phase out nuclear power by the 2030s was revealed just last Friday in a policy document entitled "Revolutionary Energy and Environment Strategy." The result of a months-long review by a government advisory panel set up in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the plan called for the government to stop greenlighting new nuclear reactor construction projects and to adhere to guidelines calling for existing reactors to be decommissioned after 40 years of operation.

The announcement came as a surprise to many observers, who had expected the government to announce a reduction in reliance on nuclear power, but not the complete elimination of nuclear energy. The policy is seen as a victory for the people of Japan, who have been engaging in loud, vocal protests outside of the Japanese government building and even the Prime Minister's office in a nuclear protest movement that has drawn hundreds of thousands onto the streets of Tokyo in the height of summer.

Right away, however, there was confusion over the policy, which leaves all existing reactor projects on the table and means that if those projects are to go ahead and to remain in operation for 40 years, that there could still be operating reactors in the country into the 2070s. Now, the Cabinet has dropped all mention of the 2040 time frame for a nuclear free Japan. Trade Minister Yukio Edano has attempted to clarify that the Cabinet has "authorized" the policy and that the government plan will be "based on" the strategy, but there is no clear indication why the original timeline has been dropped from the strategy.

Anti-nuclear groups have again taken to the streets, staging a protest Wednesday in front of the Prime Minister's Official Residence. They point out that the new policy is itself a deception, as it still allows for nuclear fuel reprocessing and fast-breeder reactors in the country, despite the "zero-nuclear" tagline that the government has given the strategy.

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  1. Fukushima Update | Japan Backpedals on “No Nukes” Policy | 09/20/2012

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