The future of nuclear power is shaping up as the major issue on voters’ minds ahead of national elections in Japan this week.
It’s been just over 18 months since the tsunami and earthquake that killed thousands of people and triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
But even though nuclear power production is something many want stopped, the party on track to win the poll this Sunday is in favour of keeping the reactors.
Every Friday in front of the Japanese Prime Minister’s residence and Parliament, anti-nuclear protesters turn up to make their voices heard.
Some want whoever wins this Sunday’s election to close down the nuclear power plants immediately – others are worried about the economy.
“They say it’s not something that you can stop quickly. So while they say that you can’t stop it quickly, if you don’t plan on stopping it immediately then it just keeps getting put off. So I plan on supporting a party that says they will stop them immediately.”// “The economy is cooling down a bit. So on top of that if you then go and stop all the nuclear reactors then the economy will get even worse, so there’s the worry that it’s hard to stop all of a sudden.”
COMPLEX POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
This election will see around 1,500 candidates fielded by 12 parties or standing as independents campaign for the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament.
The two main parties are the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the DPJ, and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party or LDP.
Opinion polls have suggested the LDP is on course to return to government as the biggest party, but not with an outright majority.
Its leader, Shinzo Abe, has been Prime Minister before – for one year between 2006 and 2007.
On the sensitive issue of nuclear power, Shinzo Abe told a recent debate audience it’s not as simple as shutting down the plants.
“Assume that places like China continue with nuclear power, and only Japan stops. Then at that point if there’s an accident would Japan really be all right? Or for instance how to deal with spent nuclear fuel, this is a world-wide issue. In order for us to contribute to those issues, it’s necessary to preserve those with knowledge in Japan as well”.
Rikki Kersten is a former Australian diplomat in Japan and now a Professor of Modern Japanese Politics at the Australian National University.
She says the current ruling party, the DPJ, and the minor parties such as the Japan Future Party and Japan Restoration Party are all talking about phasing out nuclear energy.
But not the LDP.
“Only the LDP talks about consulting the experts before deciding what to do. But the electorate is unequivocally in favour of eliminating nuclear energy from Japan’s energy mix. I think what we’re going to see in this election is that parties are going to recognise the popular appeal of this platform, but that does not mean that after the election we are going to see a realisation of that policy.”
One prominent anti-nuclear voice is former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was leader of the DPJ at the time of the Fukushima disaster.
“If the Liberal Democratic Party does indeed manage to get a majority again and looks to really start restarting reactors again and make things as they were then that’s indeed something that I’d want to look to prevent or stop.”
Sophia University Associate Professor of political science Koiichi Nakano says the pro-nuclear camp – including the LDP, business groups and power companies – don’t want to debate the issue.
“They don’t particularly want to have a debate about that. They rather want to shelve the issue, pretend nothing much happened. And they won’t come out saying we are pro-nuclear, let’s continue. But instead they’ll say something like let’s wait for three year.”
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, the long-running dispute between China and Japan over a group of islands in the East China Sea has also featured in the debate.
Earlier this month, four Chinese government ships sailed into the territorial waters of disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan, and Diayu in China.
Japan is maintaining its claim to the islands.
The current Prime Minister is the DPJ’s Yoshihiko Noda.
“In order to peacefully and safely control them over the long term, we nationalised them. However unfortunately China is reacting emotionally to this. We plan on maintaining a strong stance towards this”.
Meanwhile, a senior government minister has come under fire for saying North Korea should “waste no time” in holding its planned rocket launch so he can get on with campaigning.
North Korea’s government announced last week that it would launch a rocket before the 22nd of December.
On a visit to his constituency in Osaka, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said government duties were limiting his time to campaign.
Asked by reporters when he would come home again to put his campaign in full swing, he replied that it would depend on when the North Korean missile goes up.
He went on to say, “It will be great if they waste no time and (just) send it up (soon).”
Opposition parties have taken advantage of his apparent gaffe to step up their attack on the DPJ, demanding Mr Fujimura’s resignation.
Rikki Kersten from the ANU says sensitive issues like this make the final election result impossible to predict.
“There’s a lot going on that causes the electorate to be perplexed. I think that things like the firing of the missile by the DPRK (North Korea), any developments over the Senkaku islands with China. These sorts of things at the last minute could swing the electorate in a particular direction”.