Former Prime Minister Kan still in the nuclear spotlight

August 08, 2012


With his successor under fire for supporting the restart of nuclear reactors, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan wants instead a new decentralized national power grid, with solar panels spreading out to all the country’s farms and towns generating their own electricity from biomass.

Speaking at the Japan Press Center on Aug. 8, the engineer-turned-statesman has been in the news of late for his actions following the Great East Japan Earthquake of last year.

Kan led the nation last year during the most critical days following the earthquake and the tsunami, which led to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and tried to take direct control of the crisis from the plant's operators.

The former prime minister criticized, if not directly, his own party for rushing two reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture back on line.

“Think back to March 11, and I think you will all remember what we were doing that day,” Kan said. "Personally, whenever I think of the first week of the nuclear accident a chill runs down my spine. I’d like to be able to say that we stopped the accident from escalating, but in the end all I can says is that mercifully it stopped. I don’t want to use the word ‘lucky’ but there was a good chance that it could have come off worse.

“Listening to today’s debates, there are those who insist that the economy can only continue to suffer without a resumption of nuclear power. What they says is partially true. Yet aren’t they forgetting something? We were one step away from having to evacuate 30 million people from their homes--have they calculated the economic cost of that? It is a far greater peril.”

Kan's successor, Yoshihiko Noda, chosen by the Democratic Party of Japan to which they both belong, is facing mounting protests on Friday nights outside his residence protesting his successful efforts to restart two reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The move is highly unpopular, with close to 70 percent of participants who wanted to speak at 10 recent public hearings held to decide future government policy saying they want an end to nuclear energy by 2030.

Kan expressed his own opposition to nuclear power in July last year, after an attempted no-confidence measure against him failed, but was still forced to resign in late August. He tried to shift DPJ energy policy of building more reactors, but ran into opposition from his own ranks.

“There are those who say that the past three years (since the DPJ came into power) have been a failure,” he told the journalists gathered at the Japan Press Center. “It seems as if after everything that’s happened, we’ve settled back into the same pattern as the Liberal Democratic Party, but that’s just an illusion. If we look at the picture more level-headedly it’s clear there has been progress”--namely a generational change in politics, and the beginnings of a true two-party system.

A divisive figure, Kan is seen by supporters as the firm--if volatile--leader who averted a doomsday scenario by storming into Tokyo Electric Power Co. headquarters to take a direct hand in management after the crisis erupted at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. TEPCO executives, he believed, were ready to evacuate all emergency staff from the crippled reactors. TEPCO maintains it never considered the option and that the former prime minister misunderstood their communications.

A government-ordered inquiry into the events has determined that Kan more likely obstructed emergency efforts. On Aug. 6, after initially refusing on the grounds of privacy, the power utility released video conference footage taken during the crisis, with some conditions on their viewing.

One segment shows Kan, his back to the camera, addressing and gesticulating at TEPCO officials gathered at their headquarters. The audio, TEPCO explains, was inadvertently turned off. Other fragments have been blurred and the sound beeped, in order to protect the identities of some of those depicted.

“I find the company’s explanation that the footage is private property quite unnatural,” Kan said of his muted image. “It’s like the communication between an airline cockpit and the control tower--it should be public domain.”

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Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks at the Japan Press Center on Aug. 8.

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks at the Japan Press Center on Aug. 8.

  • Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks at the Japan Press Center on Aug. 8.

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