East Asia Forum - Llewelyn Hughes on Japan’s energy conundrum

Japanese politics was dominated by energy in the wake of the disaster of 11 March, 2011. The decision to shut-down all the remaining 48 nuclear units introduced real concerns of brownouts, previously unthinkable in Japan’s gold-plated power system. The parliament commissioned the first independent inquiry in Japan’s postwar history, and gave it the task of finding out what happened, and how a similar event can be avoided.

In the recent election for Japan’s House of Representatives — which returned the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power with a thumping majority — energy was relegated to a secondary issue. This is despite the fact that polling suggests a large segment of the Japanese population don’t trust the Abe governmentto apply the lessons of the Fukushima disaster to nuclear policy moving forward.

So, why was energy marginalised as an election issue?

One possibility is simply that the campaign was short. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election and Japan has very short legally mandated campaigning periods. This made it hard for the opposition parties to generate concern about the LDP’s approach. But the government also used three strategies to manage the risk of energy as an electoral issue.

First, it ensured there was not a great difference between it and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in electorally relevant time-scales. The DPJ’s former prime minister Yoshihiko Noda announced the restart of the first nuclear reactors at Ōi in 2012. But in the recent election, the DPJ pushed for respecting a 40 year limit on the operating life placed on existing nuclear units. They also proposed that no new nuclear units be built. This would ensure that, over time, nuclear power would cease to be a part of Japan’s energy mix. The DPJ further argued that existing nuclear units should be restarted only once they pass the stricter safety regulations implemented by the newly created Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Read the whole article at East Asia Forum.

Image by IAEA Imagebank on Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 


Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute