Koizumi Comes Out Against Nukes


Today's Mainichi Shimbun carries a column by Yamada Takao introducing some of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō's observations on Japan's energy choices. Koizumi, who has retired from politics (leaving his Diet seat in the hands of his son, Shinjirō), remains a voice people listen to, and it his latest comments will likely attract plenty of attention. Some of them are translated below.

During August Koizumi took a trip to Germany, which is turning away from nuclear power, and Finland, which remains committed to its nuclear program, including the construction of Onkalo, a facility to store waste from the nuclear cycle for thousands of years. He was accompanied on this fact-finding trip by members of the business community—officials from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba, and Hitachi, as well as construction firms involved in building nuclear facilities—who asked whether he would take their side in the debate on the need for nuclear power in Japan. His reply to them:

Let me speak from experience. When there's a serious issue to be decided, if you've got ten people, usually, three of them will be in favor of doing something. Two of them will be against that choice. And the other five won't care one way or the other.

Let's say I get back into the political game now. I can't say that I'm confident in my ability to go to the Diet members who aren't decided one way or the other yet and convince them that Japan needs nuclear power. Having seen what I've seen so far on this trip, I'm rather more confident that I could convince them to do away with Japan's reliance on nukes. 

Yamada notes that a nation using nuclear power is like "an apartment with no toilet." There are plenty of countries that would like their companies to land contracts to build toilets for the industry—facilities to collect, process, and store nuclear waste—but there are very few places willing to accept one of these facilities locally. Onkalo is the only long-term solution now being worked on, and it should be ready to take in some waste by 2020. But the challenge it faces—storing waste for 100,000 years—is a tall one. Koizumi, upon returning to Japan:

A hundred thousand years. We're talking about rethinking our approach three centuries from now, but everyone will be dead! In any case, there's no place to put this stuff in Japan, so zero nuclear power is the only option. 

Koizumi also comes out against the idea that keeping the plants on for now, while Japan charts its next moves, is the best option—while also noting the difficulty of pulling out of a situation, even if it's one where you shouldn't be:

No, we've got to come up with a plan to go to zero nukes now, or it will become even more difficult to do so in the future. The opposition parties are all anti-nuke, so if the prime minister makes that decision, it'll be done. Then we need the idea people to come up with the ideas to make it happen. . . .

In war, the rear guard has the hardest job, defending your forces while they retreat. Look at the war we fought in the Shōwa era—we should have pulled out of Manchuria, but we couldn't. Businesspeople are saying that Japan can't grow without nuclear power, but I don't see it that way. Long ago we had people saying similar things about "Manchuria is Japan's lifeline." But we lost that territory, and Japan was still able to develop after that, right? 

"Necessity is the mother of invention," says Koizumi, putting his confidence in Japan's ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity and create a sustainable economy. It won't be so easy, of course: walking away from a power source that provided a third of the country's energy prior to 3/11 is going to require considerable spending on fossil fuel imports to take up that slack (along with the carbon emissions they entail), or even more considerable spending on research and development in the renewable energy field—with no guarantee of success anytime soon, meaning that both of these options will be needed in tandem. The "idea people" will be kept very busy.

Just as importantly, Japan will need to see which way Koizumi's "five people who don't care one way or the other" will lean. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide responded to Koizumi's comments today, noting that they represented the views of an individual, which differed from the Abe Shinzō administration's views. "The government is responsible for providing a stable energy supply to the people, and so it will place its greatest emphasis on safety as it addresses the nuclear power issue while also working with all speed on renewable energy. . . . With safe management firmly in mind, Japan will still need to rely on nuclear power." (PD)

UPDATE: The Mainichi posted its own English translation of the full essay while we were preparing this post. 

energy nuclear Koizumi Jun'ichirō renewables policy