Japan’s Nuclear Questıon - Part II: The ‘Nuclear Village’ - Hikmet can Çakan

The second part of Japan’s nuclear question steps into the domestic debate regarding the use of atomic energy. In this part, I will start by presenting pro-nuclear local actors, along with their arguments and capabilities. ‘Nuclear village’ is the name refers to the pro-nuclear institutions and individuals in Japan, the ‘village’ includes governments at the national and local level, members of bureaucracy -especially in related ministries and regulatory bodies-, business associations, energy companies, media outlets, and academics. The most prominent actors within this abstract entity are The Liberal Democratic Party, Japanese Business Federation (Kaidanren), Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai), Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), and Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC). Compared to the anti-nuclear activist groups, the nuclear village appears as a more consolidated clique as a proper example of an ‘iron triangle’ -government, bureaucracy, and business.

The LDP -which has been the dominant party in the Japanese Diet since the year 1955 except for only three years- had maintained its pro-nuclear stance since the very beginning when it first came to power in 1955. The LDP governments have shown no intention to securitize the anti-nuclear discourse on their agenda. The party leadership believes that advanced technology, safety standards, and legal regulations render the use of nuclear energy away from being a threat to the security of human health and the environment. However, after the 3/11 incident, the party had to take some serious steps to restore its nuclear policy, such as the reinstitution of the regulatory body -Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA)-, temporary shut down of the entire atomic reactors, and investments in renewable clean energy. The reason why the party insistently advocates multiple rights can explain nuclear power. The first, Japan is an archipelagic state that suffers from a lack of natural resources (mainly oil, gas, and coal) to supply the necessary energy that is vital for its vast industry, which renders the country dependent on the costly energy import. In this respect, two aspects of security emerge; energy and economic security. Nuclear power plants provide domestically-generated energy, which reduces the country’s external dependency and offers the cheapest electricity, which is attractive if we remember the global oil crisis in the 1970s and the economic recession that the country suffers nearly for three decades. Even less than two years after the 3/11, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed for ‘nuclear renaissance’ -restart of the nuclear reactors shut down after the 3/11- which he sees crucial for ‘Abenomics’ -his reform policies to revive the economy- to be successfully implemented.

Secondly, besides its technological infrastructure, high numbers of power plants and a vast amount of radioactive material it possesses, Japan is the only country that is ‘allowed’ to enrich uranium without having nuclear weapons, which renders Japan as the likeliest country to produce its bombs within a concise time. In 2012, as LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru stated, “Having nuclear plants shows to other nations that Japan can make nuclear weapons,” the LDP government wants to keep the nuclear option open. Keeping in mind that the Abe administration tries to take countermeasures against its giant rival China’s military growth and North Korean aggression, in this sense, maintaining its nuclear potential is crucial to deter these two regional nuclear powers.

Thus, for the LDP side, nuclear power plants serve as a source of the country’s military security. Thirdly, Japanese governments have been concerned with climate change since the beginning of the 1990s. In the year 1990, the LDP government adopted the Action Program to Halt Global Warming aimed at stabilization of carbon dioxide emission. In 1997, Japan hosted the Kyoto Protocol conferences marking the country’s genuine efforts to fight climate change and global warming. Not surprisingly, pro-nuclear discourse and climate change concerns have gone parallel in Japanese politics thus far, the promotion of nuclear energy by the LDP governments as an alternative to fossil fuels gained momentum until the 3/11 Fukushima Daiichi incident.

In this respect, it was a concern of environmental security -in a different way as anti-nuclear actors voice- and a trade-off between reduced carbon emission and increased risk of radiation has been kept on the list. The pro-nuclear stance of the ‘nuclear village’ shows unanimity in no small extent, yet, the business pillar of this iron-triangle does not seem to have prioritized the environmental security. Most business associations (including Kaidanren) and energy companies (including TEPCO and KEPCO) have dragged their feet to comply with the new safety controls, shut down of power plants, and the LDP’s new eco-friendly policies after the 3/11.


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