Opposition is growing in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s drive to get Japan's suspended nuclear plants back online.
Deep divisions were evident at a party meeting on April 17 called by DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi to explain the administration's push to restart the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, with the debate characterized by repeated clashes between opponents and supporters of the government line.
Akihiro Ohata, who is chairman of the party's energy project team and in favor of the Oi resumption, started the discussions, urging about the 80 party members present to back the restarts.
"Nuclear plants whose safety is confirmed should be back online on the government's own responsibility," he said.
But Satoshi Arai, former state minister in charge of national policy and chair of the party's project team to deal with the nuclear accident, directly confronted Ohata.
"(The administration's decision) is premature," he said. "(It) will become the root of a serious problem in the future."
Acting DPJ policy chief Yoshito Sengoku, who had claimed the previous day that not having any nuclear power plants in operation would "in a sense be equivalent to Japan committing mass suicide," called for a "level-headed" policy debate.
But participants said most of the lawmakers who spoke at the meeting criticized the government's handling of the issue.
"(The administration) has not drawn lessons from the accident," Nobuhiko Suto, a Lower House member, was quoted as saying.
Yukio Ubukata, a Lower House member, raised doubts about standards for the resumption devised by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which he called untrustworthy.
"My candid impression of why the administration is in a hurry is that I suspect it is afraid power supply will get through the summer without the nuclear plants," he was quoted as saying.
Lower House lawmaker Takeshi Saiki told the meeting: "(The government) should tell (the public) that it is maintaining the course toward abandoning nuclear power."
The April 17 meeting eventually broke up with no agreement except to continue discussions.
There appears to be growing disquiet among DPJ lawmakers about the way in which the government has decided its policy on the Oi restart, and, particularly, Sengoku's role in that decision.
At a meeting of the Upper House environment committee on April 17, DPJ legislator Kuniko Tanioka questioned the acting policy chief's attendance at key meetings of Cabinet ministers responsible for the nuclear industry, where the government's policy on the restart was decided.
She demanded that tapes of the meeting where the approval for the resumption of the Oi plant was made be submitted to the committee.
Caution also appears to be spreading among legislators who supported Noda in the DPJ leadership election last year.
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Michihiko Kano told a meeting of his party group on April 17 that it was important for the government to explain its position in a credible way.
Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who committed himself to a nuclear-free Japan while in office, said on April 17: "Unfortunately, discussions have been focused on the restart, an immediate issue. Discussions are needed on what steps we have to take to achieve the goal of abandoning nuclear power."
Fifty-three of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors are currently offline for regular checks and other reasons and, with many people and local governments near power stations reluctant to support restarts following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the debate within the DPJ is delicately poised.
"The course on resuming (the Oi plant) will not be changed," an executive member of the DPJ Policy Research Committee said.
But one Cabinet member said the opposition would be difficult to ignore.
"There are a substantial number of cautious views within the party. I still don't know whether the final decision will be made," the Cabinet member said.
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