As we noted a couple of days ago, comments by former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi against nuclear energy in his country drew both respectful assent - and dissent - from the Japanese press. The key word is “respectful,” because Koizumi is highly regarded, sort of a Bill Clinton of Japan. Unlike former President Clinton, though, Koizumi has stayed aloof from the political scene since retiring. So his comments have been handled gracefully and tactfully, as they should. See the post below for more.
Japan should welcome Mr. Koizumi’s intervention and begin a healthy debate on the future of nuclear power that has not occurred in the two and a half years since the Fukushima disaster. The Japanese Diet did conduct an independent investigation, which concluded Fukushima to be a man-made disaster. But the investigation did not lead to serious parliamentary debate.
We’ve certainly seen where “healthy debate” can get you in this country, but let’s leave that aside. The people of Japan made a choice in electing the Liberal Democrats to office despite (or because of) its support for nuclear energy and current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has the authority to implement his party’s platform. That includes restarting the nuclear energy plants. (This doesn’t mean the Diet shouldn’t debate the issue – just that people who call for a “healthy debate” usually mean that their side is the “healthy” one.)
So what does the Times’ editorial board want? Does it see nuclear energy as inherently dangerous? Its view of American nuclear energy has been generally positive, so why impose a highly negative assessment on another country’s industry?
Well, it gets a little fuzzy:
He [Koizumi] also criticizes the current government’s assumption that nuclear power is essential for economic growth. Ever the acute reader of political moods, Mr. Koizumi argues that a zero nuclear policy could be cause for a great social movement in a country still gripped by economic gloom after 15 years of deflation.
And even fuzzier:
Mr. Koizumi makes a compelling argument that if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were to announce a zero nuclear policy, “the nation could come together in the creation of a recyclable society unseen in the world,” and the public mood would rise in an instant.
I had not seen this quote in Koizumi’s original comments, but the result of turning off the nuclear plants has not resulted in a great social movement. Instead:
Japan plans to start up 14 new gas and coal-fired power plants by the end of 2014, allowing a switch away from pricey oil, as Tokyo struggles with a shutdown of nuclear reactors and energy imports drive a record trade deficit.
This indicates the dreamed-about “recyclable society unseen in the world” really will be unseen.
But what about renewable energy? This story does not really address that, though it speaks to the importance of baseload energy in a highly industrialized nation.
Expanding gas-fired generation is the only viable large-scale option in a nuclear-free Japan to power its industrial and commercial sector and keep electricity prices low enough for businesses to stay competitive globally.
In other words, I don’t know what the Times is on about. It seems to want to lift mushy-headed sentiments about “great social movements” above the issues of running a highly complex society with many practical issues to address. It’s easy to be glib and dreamy from afar – Koizumi is much tougher minded than his comments used by The Times indicate - much more difficult locally.