Whether Japan should rely on nuclear power generation will be a main theme in the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election as a result of former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s announcement Tuesday that he will run in the election on a “zero nuclear” platform.
His entry will have a great impact on the gubernatorial race as he has secured the wholehearted support of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has renounced his earlier stance favoring nuclear power and now is a strong anti-nuclear advocate, causing embarrassment to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party. One issue that is likely to come back and haunt Hosokawa, however, is his questionable borrowing of ¥100 million from Sagawa Express Co., which led to his resignation as prime minister in April 1994. He should give a full explanation.
Making a zero-nuclear goal the focus of policy debate in the gubernatorial election is both timely and welcome in view of the devastation that the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have caused and of the fact that Japan is a quake-prone country. Moreover, there is no established technology that will ensure safe storage of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants for tens of thousands years.
Kenji Utsunomiya, a former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, had already announced his candidacy focusing on abandoning nuclear power. However, Hosokawa’s entry into the gubernatorial race will likely arouse more interest than Utsunomiya’s candidacy in both the election and the nuclear issue, because Hosokawa, especially given Koizumi’s backing, wields much greater political weight.
Although the election is a local one, it will give voters in Tokyo, which has the highest energy usage among Japan’s prefectures — accounting for some 10 percent of Japan’s total electricity consumption — a chance to express their views on Abe’s energy policy. The Abe administration is pushing the restart of nuclear power plants — despite the ongoing struggle to contain the nuclear disaster in Fukushima — by overturning the Democratic Party of Japan government’s policy of ending nuclear power generation by the end of the 2030s. The DPJ government’s policy was based on nationwide deliberative polls. The Abe administration is trying to change the energy policy without taking any such step.
Tepco is effectively under the central government’s control, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Government still owns a sizable stake in the power company. If an anti-nuclear candidate becomes Tokyo governor, he could use this position to put a brake on Tepco’s attempt to restart its shuttered nuclear power plants.