Abe's Nuclear Renaissance
Energy Politics in Post-3.11 Japan
Author: Jeff Kingston
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's nuclear renaissance involves downplaying risks, restarting reactors, building new ones, and exporting reactor technology and equipment. Polls in Japan indicate that the public remains overwhelmingly opposed to Abe's nuclear agenda, but in various national and local elections since late 2012 antinuclear candidates have not fared well. This article examines the disjuncture between public preferences and electoral outcomes and why is it likely that Japan will restart reactors despite widespread concerns about safety, the high costs of nuclear energy, and the lack of a site for permanent disposal of nuclear waste. The safety myth is being recalibrated, but the author argues that it remains based on rosy assumptions in a nation especially prone to massive seismic disasters. The reinstatement of nuclear energy in the 2014 national energy policy marks a victory for the nuclear village, a remarkable example of institutional resilience in the face of extremely adverse developments since the massive earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011 that precipitated three reactor meltdowns in Fukushima. Despite extensive revelations about shoddy safety practices in the nuclear industry and collusive relations between regulators and those they regulate, Abe has successfully promoted a nuclear revival that few would have thought possible before his election in 2012. Reactor restarts face a number of hurdles, but the pronuclear lobby now finds it has a policy opening. The summer of 2014 has been a nuclear-free one, but in all likelihood it will be Japan's last for decades to come.