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Opposition to nuclear energy grows in Japan

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Opinion polls show the Japanese people oppose nuclear plants going back into operation. It underlines the scale of the problem facing the government in convincing everyone that it’s safe. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo.”

Before October 16, Ryuichi Yoneyama had contested four regional elections and been soundly beaten each time. Now, however, the 49-year-old qualified doctor and lawyer is to be sworn in as governor of Niigata Prefecture after defeating a candidate who had the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and was considered the firm favorite.

Yoneyama worked hard for his victory over Tamio Mori, a former bureaucrat with the construction ministry, but when the voters stepped into the voting booths there was a single issue that occupied their minds.

Mori and the LDP want to restart the world’s largest nuclear power station, the sprawling Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which lies on the prefecture’s coast. They insist that as Japan moves towards the sixth anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, triggering the second-worst nuclear crisis in history, new safety measures have been implemented that ensure the same thing could not happen in Niigata.

The voters did not agree, with 528,455 supporting Yoneyama’s pledge to not grant approval for Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant to be restarted. In comparison, 465,044 voted for Mori.

Nationwide opposition

Those figures are broadly replicated across Japan, with a poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper on October 15 and 16 determining that 57 percent of the public is against the nation’s nuclear power plants being restarted, and just 29 percent supporting the resumption of reactors that have nearly all been mothballed since 2011.

At present, only two of the nation’s 54 reactors have been restarted – and that after much wrangling through the courts after local residents and environmental groups expressed their opposition.

Nevertheless, a report issued by the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ) in July predicts that seven additional reactors will be on-line by the end of March next year and a further 12 will be operational one year later.

But as the opinion polls show, the majority of the public is against a policy that the government tells them is in the nation’s best interests.

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“Since the accident at Fukushima, many people have realized the negatives that go along with the positives of nuclear power, and they simply do not want to take that sort of risk again,” said Hiroko Moriwaki, a librarian who lives in Tokyo.

“And many think that we do not need to,” she added. “Since the disaster, the reactors have not been operational and look around you; we have all the electricity that we need, there are no blackouts and everything is normal.

“Just after the earthquake, we were told to do everything we could to save energy, but not any more,” Moriwaki told DW.

“So maybe we have reached the point where we don’t actually need nuclear energy and that this is in fact an opportunity that the country can take advantage of,” she said.

Japan is an advanced and industrialized nation with vast amounts of skills and technologies that could be put to use to develop and then commercialize new sources of safe, environment-friendly energy, she said.

As well as solar and wind power, which are already visible across Japan, there are moves afoot to harness Japan’s tidal and wave energy, while vast amounts of potential geothermal energy remain virtually untapped.

“We have so much technology, so wouldn’t it be best to divert some of that away from more investment in nuclear energy and put it into fuel sources that are safer and do not harm the environment at all?” Moriwaki asked.

Japan’s energy needs

Critics of this approach – of which the government is one – say Japanese industry needs a secure supply of energy right now and that Japan is presently importing 84 percent of its energy needs, primarily in the form of coal, gas and oil. And that is both expensive and to blame for the nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases climbing.

Still, the Japanese public is far from convinced that nuclear energy is the answer.

“It’s complicated and we keep hearing from the government how important it is to have the nuclear plants operating again, but after Fukushima, I think, a lot of people no longer trust the operators or the government,” said Kanako Hosomura, a housewife whose family home is north of Tokyo and only about 250 km from the Fukushima plant.

Inquiries after the disaster revealed that TEPCO ignored experts’ warnings about the potential size and power of tsunami and had failed to take precautions such as ensuring a backup power supply in the event the generators used to cool the reactors were out of operation.

The government also came under fire after the media reported that it did not have a full understanding of the severity of the crisis, while it was also issuing statements that the situation was completely under control at the same time as drawing up plans to evacuate tens of millions of people from a huge swathe of eastern Japan.

“When it comes down to it, I have a young son and a family and their safety is my number one priority,” said Hosomura. “Maybe Japan was lucky the Fukushima disaster was not worse than it was. Maybe next time we will not be so lucky.”

http://dw.com/p/2RVwE?fb

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October 22, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , | Leave a comment

LDP may lose next election if nuclear exit becomes main issue: ex-PM

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Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the pro-nuclear ruling party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could lose the next Lower House election if nuclear power becomes the main election issue.

Citing recent gubernatorial election wins for candidates concerned about restarting nuclear power plants in Niigata and Kagoshima prefectures, Koizumi said during a recent interview with Kyodo News, “(Anti-nuclear) opinions are beginning to grow . . . that could influence the (next) House of Representatives election.”

If opposition parties unite in fielding anti-nuclear candidates and make complete phase-out of the country’s nuclear plants one of the top election issues, they can defeat the ruling Liberal Democratic Party by tapping into voter fears following the 20111 Fukushima meltdowns, Koizumi said.

The current term of Lower House lawmakers expires in December 2018, but some senior LDP officials have said Abe might dissolve the house for an election early next year.

Koizumi, who promoted nuclear power generation as prime minister between 2001 and 2006, has become an active anti-nuclear campaigner. He has repeatedly criticized Abe and the way his government is dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

There is no way that a party which ignores the will of the public can maintain its hold on power,” said Koizumi, who retired from politics in 2009.

Koizumi also said that the main opposition Democratic Party “has not realized that the nuclear issue can be the biggest election issue.”

The slogans by promoters of nuclear power that (nuclear power) is safe, low-cost and clean, are all lies,” Koizumi said.

He noted that the government would be forced to pour more funds into Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crippled following the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster, to decontamination costs at the plant and compensation.

The government should give up its nuclear-fuel recycling policy, including the use of the Monju fast-breeder reactor, Koizumi said. The government has not decided on the fate of the trouble-prone reactor, which was intended to play a key role in the recycling policy.

On Abe’s drive to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, Koizumi said it will not be possible due to a lack of sufficient public support.

Koizumi said a breakthrough on the decades-old territorial dispute over a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido will also be difficult as Russia will not accept Japan’s ownership of the islands.

Abe hopes to make progress on the issue, which has prevented the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty, when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 15 in Japan.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/10/21/national/politics-diplomacy/ldp-may-lose-next-election-nuclear-exit-becomes-main-issue-ex-pm/

October 21, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Half of new teen voters choose ruling parties, exit polls reveal

A reminder: only 24% of the Japanese population voted in these elections.

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Half of teenage voters cast their ballots for the ruling parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, in the proportional representation portion of the July 10 Upper House election, according to exit polls conducted by The Asahi Shimbun.

The nation’s 18- and 19-year-olds, who were enfranchised for the first time in Japan’s history, responded that they placed more importance on issues that are relevant to them now and in the near future: the economy, employment and the consumption tax.

The LDP and Komeito jointly accounted for half the proportional representation votes from the teenage and 20s age groups. In other age groups, the parties fell just short of gaining half the voting share.

By age group, younger people voted proportionately more for the ruling parties, and older people tended to lean more toward the opposing parties. The 20s age group delivered the largest proportion of votes for the ruling parties, at 52 percent all together, followed by the underage group, at 50 percent.

Of the teenagers, 40 percent voted for the LDP, 10 percent for Komeito, 17 percent for the main opposition Democratic Party, 8 percent for Initiatives from Osaka, and 8 percent for the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).

Forty-five percent of males and 35 percent of females aged 18 to 19 voted for the LDP.

In terms of issues, 28 percent of young people chose the economy and employment as their top concern, the most common choice, followed by social security at 15 percent, the Constitution at 14 percent, child support at 13 percent, the consumption tax at 11 percent, and foreign affairs and national security at 8 percent.

In comparison to the other age groups, the teenagers accounted for the highest percentage of respondents choosing the consumption tax as their top concern.

The exit polls were conducted at 3,660 polling stations around Japan, and 182,646 valid responses were received.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201607110058.html

July 11, 2016 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment

Japan Elections: Antinuclear Candidate’s Win Poses Risk to Plant Restarts

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Kansai Electric’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant on June 20. In March, a district court in Fukui prefecture issued an injunction halting the two reactors just months after they had been restarted.

Ex-journalist Satoshi Mitazono defeats incumbent Yuichiro Ito

TOKYO—The election Sunday of an antinuclear governor in the only Japanese prefecture with an operating nuclear power plant poses another risk to the government’s efforts to restart idled nuclear plants.

Former journalist Satoshi Mitazono defeated incumbent Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito largely by pledging to suspend operations at Kyushu Electric Power Co. ’s Sendai nuclear plant, which is located in the southern prefecture.

Mr. Mitazono’s victory underscores the strength of antinuclear sentiment in the country, even as Japanese companies such as Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. win orders to build plants abroad in countries searching for a reliable, emissions-free source of power.

Kyushu Electric shares tumbled 7.5% to a three-year low Monday.

The Japanese public remains skeptical about the safety of nuclear power after the 2011 triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, with many parents still screening food for radiation. Communities hosting the plants are resisting plans to restart reactors.

The Japanese government aims to revive at least 32 of the 54 reactors it shut down following the Fukushima disaster, and plans for nuclear power to account for about a fifth of the nation’s total electricity generation by 2030. It also hopes to double the contribution from renewable energy to meet a goal of cutting the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by about a quarter from 2013 levels.

 

Nuclear power is also seen by many analysts and policy makers as key to Japan’s energy security. The country is forced to import nearly all of its fossil fuel.

Relying on oil and gas is not sustainable, with huge costs to people’s health and the economy, and serious consequences for the environment,” said Hooman Peimani, research fellow at the Tokyo-based Asia Pacific Energy Research Centre.

Yet the government’s goals for nuclear look increasingly ambitious as local communities fight back. In March, a district court in Fukui prefecture issued an injunction halting two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co. ’s Takahama nuclear plant just months after they had been restarted. The court said Kansai Electric had failed to show the public that the reactors were safe, despite having met stricter safety standards established after the Fukushima accident.

The only other nuclear plant now scheduled to be restarted is Shikoku Electric Power Co. ’s plant in Ikata, in southern Ehime prefecture. The restart is slated for August.

The people are worried,” Mr. Mitazono said in a TV interview shortly after the election Sunday night. “We will not operate nuclear reactors when their safety cannot be guaranteed.”

The fight against nuclear at home has Japanese plant operators seeking business overseas—particularly in China and India. Hitachi last week said it would work with plant operator Japan Atomic Power to build and run nuclear plants in the U.K.

Toshiba, through U.S. unit Westinghouse Electric, hopes to secure contracts to build 45 nuclear reactors by 2030. Westinghouse is already building four reactors each in the U.S. and China. Toshiba said last week that it is eyeing 12 more deals in India, three in the U.K., and a total of five in the U.S. and Turkey.

Having nuclear plants idled is costly for Japan’s utilities, which are competing in a newly deregulated retail market. Restarting the Sendai plant has enabled Kyushu Electric to cut its imports and consumption of fossil fuels, which helped it log a profit in the year ended in March.

Mizuho Securities Co. analyst Norimasa Shinya said in a note to clients Monday that if the Sendai plant were to remain shut after planned maintenance checks later this year, Kyushu Electric’s recurring profit would fall by nearly a third, or about 18 billion yen ($176 million), in the current business year.

Kyushu Electric declined to comment on the impact of a possible shutdown at Sendai. “We have not been told to halt operations, nor do we know when, if, or how such a request would be made,” a spokesman said. “Voters voted on a wide array of issues, and not just on nuclear.”

http://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-elections-antinuclear-candidates-win-poses-risk-to-plant-restarts-1468232103

 

July 11, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | 4 Comments

Many voters unaware what 2/3 majority means for Constitution revision

Nuclear energy and safety were not among the major concerns of the Japanese voters, for whom the main issue remained economic policy. To the exception of Fukushima Prefecture (Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant) and of Kagoshima Prefecture (Sendai Nuclear plant) were voters elected anti-nuke candidates.

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With the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) having focused its campaign for the July 10 House of Councillors election on economic issues, many voters say they weren’t aware what securing a two-thirds majority in the upper house meant for parties in favor of revising the pacifist Constitution — that is, they can initiate constitutional amendment in the chamber, a Mainichi Shimbun poll shows.

“It ended without us (and the voters) being on the same page,” said Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), as he spoke to the media amidst a barrage of camera flashes at his party’s headquarters in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district on the night of July 10. The DP had tried to rally voters around the idea of stopping the ruling coalition and some opposition parties from gaining enough seats to amend the Constitution, while the LDP buried this issue by talking only about the economy. In the end, the LDP came out the clear victor.

Did voters even know about the “two-thirds majority” and its importance for constitutional amendment? On July 10, the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed 150 eligible voters around the country, and 83 of them, or almost 60 percent, said they “didn’t know” what the two-thirds majority meant in terms of constitutional revisions. When asked what issue influenced them the most in their vote, most answered things that were closely related to their lives, like economic or social welfare policies. Only about 10 percent said constitutional amendment was the most influential issue for them.

When asked, “Do you know what the number ‘two-thirds’ means?” a 29-year-old man working in building management who responded to the Mainichi Shimbun poll in front of JR Akabane Station in Kita Ward, Tokyo, responded, “Does that number have something to do with employment?” When the man was told that this was “the number of Diet seats needed for initiating constitutional amendment,” he was surprised and said, “Does that mean Article 9 is going to be messed around with? People don’t know this, do they?”

Based on a prediction that voter turnout would be about 50 percent, the poll was conducted on 75 people who voted and 75 people who didn’t. Among those who voted, 29 people did not know the significance of “two-thirds,” and among those who didn’t vote 54 did not know. Most people who didn’t know and were told the meaning of the number appeared uninterested.

Even among those who knew the significance of securing two-thirds of the vote, many people were more influenced by other issues. A 57-year-old self-employed man in Kagoshima Prefecture said, “As someone operating a tiny business outside of Tokyo, economic policies are most important to me.”

On the night of July 10, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not talk about the changes to the Constitution the LDP is looking to bring about. There is no denying that because of the LDP avoiding the topic of the supreme law, debate over constitutional amendment never heated up in the election.

A 21-year-old company employee in Toyama Prefecture explained why she didn’t vote. “I didn’t know what the main issues of the election were. I thought that it would be better not to vote than to just vote without a good reason.”

Due to low voter turnout, those aiming for constitutional amendment have reached their desired two-thirds majority, and a movement to change the country is set to truly begin.

* Interviewees’ opinions on constitutional reform

– It is necessary to consider amendment to make the Constitution match with today’s world, but don’t change the fundamentals of basic human rights and pacifism. (50-year-old female, company employee, Akita Prefecture)

– If necessary it’s OK to change the Constitution, but currently we have not yet had a national debate about this, so it’s too early. (37-year-old male, company employee, Tokyo)

– I don’t want us to do something and then regret it, like the United Kingdom after its referendum result to leave the European Union. I want the issue to be thought over carefully. (47-year-old female, company employee, Tokyo)

– We’ve been peaceful up until now, so we don’t need to change it. (20-year-old male, company employee, Kanagawa Prefecture)

– As long as we have the Self-Defense Forces and they are active, we have to change the Constitution (to clearly allow for those forces). (51-year-old male, company employee, Shiga Prefecture)

– A proposal for constitutional amendment will be a good opportunity for people to think about the Constitution. (65-year-old male, unemployed, Nara Prefecture)

– It’s not that I’m for or against amendment, the problem is that the current administration is too forceful in moving policies forward, when there should be in-depth debate. We shouldn’t rush to amend the Constitution. (34-year-old male, self-employed, Shimane Prefecture)

– We need to create a sovereign Constitution. We shouldn’t depend on another country for our defense. (65-year-old male, taxi driver, Yamaguchi Prefecture)

– I oppose amendment. The current way where we just pay money and are protected by the United States is better. I don’t want us to participate in wars. (56-year-old male, company employee, Fukuoka Prefecture)

* Why eligible voters chose not to vote

– I can’t trust politicians. (18-year-old female, vocational school student, Tokyo)

– I have my hands full with my everyday life. Increasing my income comes before everything else. (40-year-old male, company employee, Kyoto Prefecture)

– There are no candidates or parties I support. I don’t like the ruling parties’ forceful methods, but when it comes to the opposition parties, though they talk about joining forces against the ruling parties, they advocate different policies from each other. (29-year-old male, company employee, Hyogo Prefecture)

– I feel powerless against the hard-line stance of the Abe administration. (66-year-old female, unemployed, Hiroshima Prefecture)

– I didn’t know what the main election issue was. Maybe it’s because my electoral district was merged, but I never once saw the candidates. (43-year-old female, housewife, Kochi Prefecture)

– I don’t feel like a House of Councillors election affects my life. (56-year-old male, civil servant, Ehime Prefecture)

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160711/p2a/00m/0na/026000c

July 11, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

The power of a vote can affect Japan’s nuclear energy policy

With brutal heat forecast for this summer, the government is not calling for power-saving efforts this year. This is a break from tradition that started in summer 2011 after the disastrous accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., in March that year.

Only two nuclear reactors are currently running in Japan, both at the Sendai nuclear plant operated by Kyushu Electric Co. But the government determined that the nation’s power supply will not fall short this summer, largely because energy-saving practices have become well-established in private homes and businesses over the last five years, including the widespread use of energy-efficient LED lighting.

Japan appears to have become less dependent on nuclear power generation since the Fukushima disaster. Nowadays, the subject is debated less frequently, and anti-nuclear demonstrators have shrunk in number.

In the campaign for the July 10 Upper House election, too, the nation’s nuclear policy is hardly a hot topic of debate for the ruling and opposition parties.

But we need to re-examine whether the government is moving toward maintaining or abolishing its current nuclear policy.

Looking 20 to 30 years ahead, The Asahi Shimbun has consistently advocated a “zero nuclear power generation society” in its editorials. Our basic thinking is to approve the restart of offline reactors for the time being when urgent power needs exist. But at the same time, high-risk and antiquated reactors should be decommissioned, starting with the oldest and the most dangerous.

Abe administration’s piecemeal restart of reactors

Since the current Abe administration was inaugurated in December 2012, its track record has made the direction of its nuclear policy quite clear.

The administration initially stressed a “decrease in reliance on nuclear power generation.” But within less than six months, it put the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in the forefront to justify a switch to the policy of “restarting nuclear reactors once their safety has been confirmed.”

In the Basic Energy Plan of 2014, nuclear power is positioned as “an important base load power source.” One year later, the administration announced its decision to formulate a policy that would make nuclear energy account for 20 to 22 percent of the nation’s power supply in fiscal 2030. This target cannot be attained unless more than 30 nuclear reactors, out of the 54 that existed before the Fukushima disaster, are brought into operation.

In fact, starting with the Sendai reactors last summer, the government has been proceeding, bit by bit, with the restart of idle reactors. So far, four units have gone back on line. This month, the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant operated by Shikoku Electric Power Co. is scheduled to resume operations. Twenty reactors are currently under inspection.

Furthermore, the NRA has approved the extension of operations of the 40-plus-year-old No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. Put plainly, even the “40-year rule,” set for averting disasters by decommissioning old reactors, is about to lose teeth.

Abe stresses nuclear power as “a low-cost and stable energy source.” But as deregulation in the power industry eliminates regional monopolies while electricity charges become less subject to rigid rate structures, nuclear power generation could actually become a burden to operators for the huge costs needed to maintain safety and dismantle old reactors.

For this reason, the government is coming up with what may be called new initiatives to protect the nuclear power industry.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is working on a policy under which the government will buy electricity generated at nuclear power stations at a set price to encourage sustained investment in nuclear power generation.

Another plan under consideration is to decrease the financial responsibility of nuclear power plant operators for accident compensation and increase the government’s responsibility instead. This goes in the opposite direction from industry deregulation.

Parties need to clarify positions on nuclear power

Many Upper House election candidates running on the ruling coalition ticket are keeping their opinions on nuclear power generation to themselves, leaving all policy decisions to the government. But some of the same candidates are also starting to call for the construction of new, safer reactors to counter the argument of people opposed to extended operations of old reactors.

Should the ruling coalition win the Upper House election, there is no doubt that it will add momentum to the Abe administration’s move to return to nuclear power generation.

The opposition camp, with some minor exceptions, is united in opposing nuclear power generation. The Democratic Party and three other parties share the policy of “realizing a society that does not depend on nuclear power generation.”

However, the parties differ in the method and speed with which they propose to reduce the nation’s dependence on nuclear energy. While the parties are sharply focused on issues related to Abenomics, the national security legislation and constitutional revision, nuclear power generation tends to remain less discussed.

Will Japan keep relying on nuclear power? Or does it aim to eventually end this reliance by switching aggressively to sustainable energy development?

Because the answer spells a fundamental difference in the future of the nation’s energy policy, every party owes it to the voting public to explain its position clearly and engage in serious debate.

In disaster-affected areas of Fukushima Prefecture, the government’s evacuation orders are being lifted one by one, but there is a long way to go before the affected citizens can rebuild their lives. For them, the March 2011 disaster is still a dire reality they must face very day.

Looking at the future

For voters not directly affected by the nuclear disaster, five years may be enough time for their interest to wane.

But electricity is indispensable to everyone’s daily life and work. An immediate and crucial political issue is how to secure the necessary infrastructure, and at what cost.

Since April, it has become possible for private households to choose their electricity supplier, giving people a greater chance to exercise their free will. Still, every ballot cast carries weight. The outcome of the Upper House election can either accelerate or put the brakes on the Abe administration’s nuclear energy policy.

We need to look at 10 years and 20 years down the road, not just today and tomorrow, when we think about the nation’s energy policy, especially regarding nuclear power.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201607060033.html

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Showdown in apathetic Fukushima finds justice minister scrambling for survival

 

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Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki of the Liberal Democratic Party (left) campaigns in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 3. Right: Democratic Party candidate Teruhiko Mashiko speaks in Fukushima on June 6.

FUKUSHIMA – Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki is feeling threatened.

With his electoral district in Fukushima Prefecture reduced to one seat from two for Sunday’s Upper House election, he needs to beat Democratic Party rival Teruhiko Mashiko, something he failed to pull off the last time around.

If the Cabinet minister loses, it will end his career and deal a humiliating blow to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. And with Mashiko enjoying joint backing from opposition parties including the DP, the Fukushima race represents a showdown between the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling bloc and the opposition.

Addressing supporters last Sunday, Mashiko couldn’t have described the dynamics more succinctly.

“My opponent is no longer the justice minister. It’s Prime Minister Abe,” he said. “He’s really desperate. He’s been doing everything he can to unseat me. What an honor.”

Abe, for his part, has bent over backward to help Iwaki, joining him on the campaign trail right after the Diet closed for the summer on June 1 and sending a string of big-name politicians to Fukushima to campaign for him.

Failed strategy

Abe is said to have appointed the third-term Upper House lawmaker as justice minister in October to ensure re-election. He apparently felt he couldn’t afford to lose LDP influence in the sensitive constituency that was heavily damaged by three reactor meltdowns in March 2011.

But past election results show that Iwaki is facing an uphill battle on Sunday — the first since Fukushima became a single-seat constituency in 2013.

Not once in the past three Upper House elections has Iwaki defeated his main challenger, always finishing second. The last time he and Mashiko competed was in 2010, when Fukushima was a two-seat constituency. Mashiko won by 3,000 votes.

To make things worse, Iwaki’s appointment as justice minister appears to have backfired.

Earlier this year in the Diet, he was repeatedly driven into a corner as opposition lawmakers blitzed him with highly technical legal questions. His struggle to respond was televised nationwide. He majored in law at Sophia University.

“We all share the understanding that Iwaki, as a member of the current administration, cannot lose. If he does, the damage to the Abe administration will be immense,” his secretary, Izuru Onodera, said.

Lingering nuclear woes

While the election is being played as a vote on Abenomics, the two candidates in Fukushima are localizing the agenda.

In recent campaign trips in the prefecture, most of their speeches have focused on how they would steer Fukushima’s recovery. Five years into the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, about 100,000 residents still remain displaced within and outside the prefecture.

While Iwaki trumpets the LDP’s decisiveness and legislative advantage, Mashiko is vowing to decommission all 10 reactors in the prefecture.

Standing before a crowd of supporters in Koriyama on Monday, Iwaki stressed that the LDP is the party that can steer Fukushima toward recovery and accused the DP of engaging in an “irresponsible tie-up” with the radical Japanese Communist Party.

“We cannot entrust the future of Fukushima to a mishmash opposition coalition fraught with ideological differences,” Iwaki said. “As a Cabinet member, I have the responsibility to facilitate government efforts to reconstruct Fukushima.”

Mashiko, meanwhile, reaffirmed his pledge to decommission the 10 reactors and denounced Iwaki’s ambiguous stance on the matter. Although the LDP’s Fukushima chapter has vowed to dismantle the reactors, Iwaki is apparently refusing to back that pledge publicly to avoid contradicting Abe’s pro-nuclear central government.

During campaigning activities Monday, Iwaki told The Japan Times that he will “respect” the Fukushima chapter’s stance on the reactors, before speeding off in a van.

Voter apathy

Neither candidate appears to have made much of an impression with voters.

Fukushima resident Yuriko, 54, who only wished to be identified by her first name, said she will vote but might cast a blank ballot in protest.

“I feel it will make no difference no matter who wins,” the company employee said when approached on a street in Koriyama. She said she doesn’t even know who is running.

A 25-year-old man who also requested anonymity said he only cares about one topic — employment. Even the issue of Fukushima’s recovery hardly struck a nerve.

“Everyone was affected by the disaster to a different degree and I wasn’t much of a victim. As a Fukushima resident, I’m mildly curious about how the reconstruction effort proceeds, but that topic doesn’t motivate me into any sort of action,” he said.

Expectations are even dimmer among those whose lives were upended by the calamity.

On a recent visit to a remote temporary housing unit in Nihonmatsu, evacuees from the town of Namie near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant were downright apathetic about the election.

They are too preoccupied with their uncertain future, not to mention the daily inconveniences of the evacuation, to even think about the poll, they said. Not a single supermarket or hospital exists near the housing unit, forcing them to drive long distances to complete even the smallest part of their daily routine.

Nobuhiro Fujita, 68, a former farmer and carpenter, said he wasn’t interested in Sunday’s election.

“All I can think about is my own life. I don’t know what is going to happen to my house in Namie. I don’t have time to wonder about the election,” he said.

Although he wants to go home, Fujita, who suffers from numbness in his leg, said he is stuck in limbo.

“I do want to return to Namie, but even if I do, my rice field has been left unattended for too long and is now ruined. With my bad leg, I can’t do any carpentry work, either.”

A 48-year-old company employee and father who asked to be identified only by his surname of Yoshida, also took a dim view of the historic race.

“After being left like this for five years and counting, I can’t really trust the candidates to put their words into action, no matter what they say they will do for us,” he said.

“I’m resigned.”

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/07/07/national/politics-diplomacy/showdown-apathetic-fukushima-finds-justice-minister-scrambling-survival/

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , | Leave a comment