The extent of opposition in the ruling party to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s push to restart nuclear reactors became clear on June 5, with nearly a third of his party’s lawmakers putting their names to a petition asking him to reconsider his policy.
The petition carried the signatures of 117 lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, including two current Cabinet members, former party leader Ichiro Ozawa and former prime ministers Yukio Hatoyama and Tsutomu Hata.
“The Noda administration is a government we established,” former national policy minister Satoshi Arai, one of the organizers of the petition, told reporters. “We believe that the prime minister will give this due consideration.”
Arai said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tsuyoshi Saito had told him, on receiving the petition: “We take (the petition) to heart.”
Senior vice farm minister Takahiro Sasaki and senior vice internal affairs minister Kimiaki Matsuzaki both signed the petition, along with party veterans including former Upper House president Satsuki Eda and former deputy Lower House speaker Kozo Watanabe.
An intra-party group headed by Ozawa collected about 40 signatures after senior officials asked for support at a group meeting. Ozawa is also opposed to Noda’s plan to raise the consumption tax rate.
Despite the growing opposition within his party, Noda indicated on June 5 that a final decision to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture is near.
“We will make final efforts to gain the understanding of the local governments that host the plant,” Noda told the general assembly of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), Japan’s largest business group.
Noda plans to make an official decision to bring the reactors back online at a meeting with three relevant Cabinet ministers after obtaining consent from Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa.
Lawmakers supporting his policy clashed with opponents at a DPJ meeting on June 5.
Yoshito Sengoku, acting chairman of the Policy Research Committee, who has spearheaded efforts to restart the Oi reactors, tried to rally support.
“I would like you to understand that people in government concluded on their own responsibility (that it is appropriate to restart the reactors),” he said. “The reactivation has been decided not in haste but after a year of consideration.”
Opponents were unconvinced. One lawmaker said: “In the first place, the causes of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have not been specified.”
Another said: “Residents around the plant will not be satisfied unless evacuation plans have been drawn up.”
Sengoku explained the government’s plans to decommission aging reactors, but agreed to continue discussions because of a failure to reach agreement among the lawmakers.
DPJ lawmakers are increasingly aware of opposition among voters to restarting the Oi reactors.
In a survey in May conducted by The Asahi Shimbun, 54 percent of respondents were opposed, compared with only 29 percent supporting restarts.
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