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Power Politics: Japan’s Resilient Nuclear Village via The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

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As I argued in early September in a lengthy analysis of “Japan’s Nuclear Village”, the deck is stacked in favor of the pro-nuclear advocates of the nuclear village and it is unlikely that public opposition will trump the networks of power defending nuclear energy. But the speed and extent of the nuclear village’s revanchism has been stunning. The marginalization of public opinion is evident in three significant policy developments. First, on September 14, 2012 the Noda Cabinet appeared to endorse a gradual phase-out of nuclear power by the late 2030s, but within days quickly disavowed this plan under heavy pressure from business lobby groups. (Asahi 9/19/2012, Asahi 10/4/2012, Japan Times, 10/6/12) It has not officially endorsed a new national energy plan and explained that any decision on energy policy is subject to ongoing review in light of future developments. PM Noda expressed the ambiguity thus: “We need a strategy with both a firm direction and the flexibility to respond to circumstances; while its base line will not waver, it will not restrict future policy excessively.” Precisely. The Asahi concludes that the nuclear phase-out is now just a “hollow promise”, pointing out that the lack of Cabinet endorsement means that the Innovative Strategy for Energy and Environment is not binding on future governments and will impede implementation. (Asahi 9/19/2012)

Second, having muddied the waters on energy policy, the Cabinet then shifted responsibility for any future reactor restarts to the new Nuclear Regulatory Authority and reactor hosting communities. The head of the NRA initially demurred, stating that his organization merely assesses operational safety and does not have responsibility for reactor restarts. He later recanted, but pointed out that utilities also share responsibility for reactor restarts because they have to get local communities to agree. But who, in what communities, gets to decide? Now that the NRA widened the designated evacuation zone around nuclear plants to 30 km, the towns near reactors also want more say in restarts since they bear the same risks, but don’t receive the subsidies given to reactor hosting communities. Because lines of responsibility and authority are now dispersed and blurred, it is not clear where the buck stops, a strategy for undermining opposition.

Read more at  Power Politics: Japan’s Resilient Nuclear Village

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