The Abe administration is moving swiftly to distance itself from the nuclear-free society envisioned by its predecessor.
Early on Dec. 27, hours after Shinzo Abe formed his Cabinet, his economy minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, said the government would review the Democratic Party of Japan administration's ban on building new nuclear reactors that currently exist only on the drawing board.
Plans exist for nine such reactors. Additionally, construction is already under way on three further reactors, which the DPJ said can continue.
Motegi was speaking at his first news conference after assuming office. His declaration calls into question the DPJ's pledge to shut down all nuclear reactors by the 2030s—and perhaps pushes back the deadline indefinitely.
The DPJ aimed to meet the target by preventing construction of new reactors and by decommissioning existing ones as they reached the end of their standard 40-year service life. This would result in a gradual decrease from the current total of 50 reactors.
Because Motegi has opened the door to possible construction of new reactors, that scenario is now unlikely.
But it remains unclear whether coalition partner New Komeito will consent to the Liberal Democratic Party's plan to restore dependence on nuclear energy.
New Komeito called for a nuclear-free future as it campaigned for seats in the Lower House election. The coalition agreement with the LDP calls for reducing dependence on nuclear energy "as much as possible."
During a televised discussion Dec. 22, New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said it would be a bad idea at the moment to approve building new reactors.
"That is something that would not likely win public understanding," he said.
Appearing on the same TV program, Shigeru Ishiba, the LDP secretary-general, countered, saying construction was possible. But Yamaguchi said such a decision should only be taken after much caution.
Meanwhile, Motegi's comment pleased advocates of nuclear power and angered those opposed, especially in Fukushima Prefecture, which is still a long way from recovering from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year.
"That is only to be expected," said Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, reacting to Motegi's comment. He added, "It was still too early to be setting any kind of deadline and such a definitive statement should not have been made."
Local leaders whose localities already have nuclear reactors were generally pleased that further construction is now possible.
"Next year will be a good one," said Kazuharu Kawase, mayor of Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, which hosts a number of plants. They provide significant local employment.
Japan Atomic Power Co. plans to build two new reactors at its Tsuruga plant, adding to two already there. Initial plans called for the No. 3 reactor to enter service in 2017, and the No. 4 reactor in 2018.
Municipal government officials did not hide their disdain for the DPJ government and were clearly waiting for the LDP to take the reins of power once again.
There is now the possibility of construction beginning at the Kaminoseki plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture, a project which has polarized the town since it was first proposed in 1982.
One advocate is municipal assembly member Tetsuo Nishi, 65.
"I am reassured by the statement, which gives us hope," he said.
But on Iwaishima island, 4 kilometers from the planned site, a group of residents remains steadfastly opposed.
"Does the LDP want to once again torment the residents of Iwaishima?" asked 35-year-old Takashi Yamato. "We will continue our fight until it retracts the decision."
Choichi Ujimoto, 62, is a local organic farmer.
"Our 30-year struggle will continue," he said. "Since we cannot ask older residents to strive harder, it is us who must lead the cause now. We will show that we can make a living even without revenues associated with the nuclear plant."
The town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, today remains all but deserted. It lies close to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Residents still cannot return, and yet Tohoku Electric Power Co. has plans to build a new nuclear plant right there—at Namie.
"I cannot accept the idea of building a new plant when no clear explanation has been made of the cause of the nuclear accident," said Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba.
"Does this mean the suffering has not been understood? Or is it a sign that the accident has already been forgotten?" Baba said.
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