In mid-August, former Liberal Democratic Party leader and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, 71, visited Germany — which has decided to give up nuclear power — and Finland — which continues to promote the technology. His impressions could be summed up thusly: I went and I understood abandoning nuclear power; I saw with my own eyes, and I am convinced.
Koizumi was accompanied by four executives from the nuclear power technology divisions of Toshiba, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. During the trip, one of these executives whispered in the former prime minister’s ear, “You have a lot of influence. Do you think you could come around to our way of thinking? Will you be our friend?”
Koizumi looked at the executive and replied, “In my own experience of most big issues, if three out of 10 people agree with you, two will be against you, and the other five will say, ‘whichever is fine with me.’
“If I was back in the Diet in my old job, trying to persuade undecided members on the nuclear power issue, I don’t think I’d have it in me to convince them Japan ‘needs nuclear power.’ But after seeing what I’ve seen on this trip, I think I could persuade those members to move toward zero nuclear power. I’m more confident of that all the time.”
The little exchange appeared casual, off-hand even. And yet it was just the latest step in a long dance between pro-nuclear Japanese industry and former PM Koizumi — who has made several comments on denuclearizing Japan since March 2011 — as each side probes the other’s position.
The genesis of this odd-couple voyage was an April symposium attended by Koizumi and the presidents and CEOs of Japan Business Federation member companies. The captains of Japanese industry rose one after another to call for the continuation of nuclear power generation. And then Koizumi stood and roared, “That’s no good!” The room sank immediately into dejected silence.
“No, it’s just the reverse,” Koizumi told me. “If no plan to get to zero nuclear power is produced now, eliminating atomic power will become all the more difficult in the future. All the opposition parties agree that Japan should abandon nuclear power. If the prime minister decided to do it, he could do it. Once that decision was made, wise people would make their contributions” to ensure it happened.
“The most difficult job in battle belongs to the rear guard,” Koizumi continued. “To withdraw” is the hardest part. “Look at the war in the Showa era (the second Sino-Japanese war and World War II). Japan should have withdrawn from Manchuria, but we couldn’t. The business world says that the ‘economy won’t grow if we lose nuclear power,” but that’s just not true. People used to say that ‘Manchuria is Japan’s lifeline,’ but we lost Manchuria and Japan grew anyway, didn’t it?
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