The article is nicely done and makes a fairly complex topic easier to understand. Still this paragraph stuck out as oddly wrong headed:
The real challenge is the local governments, which have veto rights. Surprisingly, a recent poll among 135 cities located in nuclear evacuation zones showed that 49 percent of mayors would agree to a restart. The official (what Japanese call “tatemae”) argument is: Nobody likes to live near such a plant, but there they are, as toxic as ever (though certainly less volatile than when switched on), and we don’t know much about disposing of unused nuclear-power plants. So, we might as well turn them back on. The real (“honne”) story is that the plant owner/operators -- the ten local monopolists that run Japan’s energy system -- pay their annual “dues” to the localities, not just in the form of jobs but straight money to communities and incumbent local governments.
Writer Ulrike Schaede does not tell how he decided that these were the tatemae and honne stories, but both are breathtakingly cynical – I’m not sure why the first is even considered a viable argument to offer the public.
Allowing for the trauma of the Fukushima Daiichi accident – and it would be wrong to soft pedal it, even if the end result is the complete closure of all the facilities – I cannot imagine the mayors being so blasé in the first instance or so rapacious in the second.
Let’s take a look at that second part again:
The real (“honne”) story is that the plant owner/operators -- the ten local monopolists that run Japan’s energy system -- pay their annual “dues” to the localities, not just in the form of jobs but straight money to communities and incumbent local governments.
This sounds exceptionally sinister and corrupt. But what is being said here is that the facilities (or their shadowy monopolist overlords) employ local people and contribute to their communities. But don’t these activities constitute good corporate behavior?
Those “incumbent local governments” have kept the plants shut for the last two years, so they do seem to follow the public will even at the cost of a honey deal. And as public opinion starts to move back in the direction of restarting the plants, so does the government change its view. One might wish that officials would do what is best for their citizens rather than follow the variable whims of public opinion, but it’s not diabolical. If it were, virtually every politician everywhere would be in Hell (easy one – go for it!)
Rather than precipitously decommission all the facilities, Japan’s government (or governments – it’s more “volatile” than a running nuclear plant) instead waited to see if the passage of time would smooth over understandably sharp public displeasure. It seems to be happening, as the article points out. Schaede really has done a good job here - but the shadow thrown over local government does seem badly overstated, unfair and without much basis.