It seems that the antinuclear politicians in Japan are “circling the wagons” in preparation for next month’s election. Antinuclear politicians in the Japanese congress (Diet) are joining forces to try and make the abolition of nuclear energy the major election issue, but it seems they are fighting a losing battle. The largely antinuclear Japanese Press is doing its best to abet the antinuclear political effort, yet even they are beginning to realize that there are bigger fish to fry before December 16.
The push to make nuclear energy Japan’s political focal point began with the tsunami-induced accident at Fukushima Daiichi on 3/11/11. While the frightening number of deaths and horrific devastation of the tsunami along the Tohoku coast was at the immediate forefront, the Tokyo government used the Fukushima accident as a tool to turn the world’s attention away from the true disaster. Why? It is becoming clearer by the week that the government was embarrassed because Japan’s long-touted tsunami protective measure miserably failed. They were so sure that the existing protective measures would never fail that there was no preparation for recovery if they ever did. Then-PM Naoto Kan and his political cronies had no idea about what they should do about the tsunami’s aftermath so they focused everything on a nuclear accident that was many orders of magnitude less severe than the tsunami itself. They exploited a lingering national anxiety over the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima/Nagasaki and wide-spread ignorance of the true risks of low level radiation exposure to the fullest extent possible. While the nation agonized over phantasmagorical “what-if” scenarios relative to F. Daiichi and fears relative to detectable levels of radioactivity, numerous more-severe earthquake and tsunami-spawned issues were virtually ignored; oil refinery fires and explosions, chemical storage facility destruction causing local toxic contamination of land and sea, and more than 20 million tons of tsunami debris moldering untouched because of the fear that it might be radioactive. As the election approaches, it seems the nation is finally waking up and smelling the noxious aroma of politically-expedient “cover-up”. But, the antinuclear fanatics in Japan’s congress refuse to capitulate and continue to fight their battle undaunted.
The Japanese Diet has roughly 700 members in the upper and lower houses. Just before PM Noda’s recent dissolution of the Diet due to massive political pressure, a small minority of 13 antinuke lawmakers pushed through a last-minute bill to abolish all things nuclear by 2025. One Tokyo lawyer hailed the move, saying, “This really is a citizen-lawmaker-initiated bill.There are no choices but to create a law to abolish the use of nuclear power.” The last-ditch proposal will not be addressed until after the upcoming election, but its unpopularity makes it unlikely to go anywhere.
This week, a small cadre 20 die-hard Diet lawmakers have met to coordinate a cross-party coalition to make the nuclear issue no. 1 in the election. They come from three parties; Democratic Party of Japan (which currently controls the Diet), Social Democratic Party and People’s Life First. The politicians met and were joined by about 60 members of citizens groups campaigning to stop nukes. PLF party president Kenji Yamaoka said that while 70% of the people responding to newspaper polls are against nuclear power, 70% of the Diet favors nukes. He feels the Diet and the public are “worlds apart” on the issue and something needs to be done to end the paradox. He calls for voters to only cast their ballots for candidates who are antinuclear so they will have a controlling majority in the government. Meanwhile, one of the last political cronies of Naoto Kan still holding office, Industry Minister Yukio Edano, adds to the mix by making attacks on the now-popular LDP for possibly challenging the independence of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA). A leading member of the DPJ, Edano said, “The Nuclear Regulation Authority will make judgments independently from politics. If politicians indicate when to reach a conclusion on resumption, it will contradict the idea of ensuring the body’s independence.” He added that the LDP is contradicting itself because it was their idea to make the NRA independent in the first place, “Not explaining and not setting any goals — I can only think that they are running away (from the issue).”
While the Japanese Press remains generally antinuclear, the F. Daiichi accident has been diminishing in its news media presence over the past months. Kyodo News Service might be a good example of what is happening. Last Spring, Fukushima was listed as its top on-going issue. Since then, national defense and the dispute with China over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands have taken the lead. An increasing number of articles on the still-lingering tsunami debris issue (more than 15 million tons remain untouched), the crumbling national economy and impending tax increases have pushed Fukushima way down the list. Even the strongly antinuclear Asahi sees the writing on the wall. A most informative image of the lessening of Fukushima’s political usefulness is a picture posted in the Asahi Shimbun on Thursday of former-PM Naoto Kan standing on a draped box, in Tokyo, speaking into a microphone and politicking the antinuclear agenda – only there’s no-one listening! Pathetic, to say the least. Kan has been ostracized by his party, the DPJ, and has been reduced to little more than a street-corner prophet.
Of the five major newspapers, only the Mainichi Shimbun continues to promote the antinuclear issue as an election center-piece. In today’s lead editorial, the Mainichi says a “concrete vision” for Japan’s energy future is the most critical issue in the upcoming election. The Mainichi stoops lower than a snake’s belly to support their claim by using exaggeration and passé rhetoric. The worst exaggeration is, “Even now, 20 months after the outbreak of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), at least 160,000 people are living as evacuees.” The number of politically-mandated F. Daiichi evacuees is more like 60,000: there are 160,000 tsunami-caused evacuees who cannot return home. As for worn-out rhetoric, “Workers at the site continue their efforts to bring the crisis under control, with no end in sight. Decontamination of areas tainted by radiation is far from completion, and low-level radiation exposure among residents is a constant concern.” However, the accident has been long-under control, decontamination of the surrounding areas is moving forward, and low-level radiation exposure is only a concern of a radiophobic minority who are politically active.
For more than a year Japan’s voluntary, non-scientific newspaper polls and their antinuclear indications have dominated the headlines. Polls of this nature attract only those most-inspired to respond, and Japan’s fully-charged antinuclear demographic has dominated. Whether or not these polls have merit will be demonstrated in the December 16th election. It now seems that most of the Japanese Press has finally gotten a message that the public might not be fanatically antinuclear, after all. Nuclear energy is definitely a significant political issue in Japan, but it is not the single-most important one. It’s maybe third or fourth on the list. The die-hards in the Diet need to wake up, too, or they could be out of their $269,000-per-year jobs come December 16, and join Naoto Kan on his lonely Tokyo street corner.