Abe Mentor Koizumi Reignites Post-Fukushima Nuclear Debate

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces another prominent opponent to his plans to return to nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, as a former political mentor called for Japan to immediately abandon its reactors.

Former Liberal Democratic Party Premier Junichiro Koizumi spoke out against atomic power today in his highest profile speech since retiring from politics in 2009. He joins three other former leaders who have turned against the industry that once provided more than a quarter of Japan’s electricity, with all of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors now off-line.

Abe has said he plans to restart reactors that are declared safe by the nuclear regulator, while leading a push to sell Japanese nuclear technology overseas. Surveys published in the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers today found 60 percent and 54 percent of respondents respectively agreed with Koizumi that Japan should aim to go nuclear-free.

“I think we should go to zero now,” Koizumi told reporters. “If we re-start the reactors, all that will result is more nuclear waste.”

The Fukushima atomic station in March 2011 became the site of the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and in recent months the crippled plant has been hit by weekly reports of radioactive water leaks and accidents.

Nuclear Opponents

Last year, former Democratic Party of Japan prime minister Yukio Hatoyama joined a demonstration by anti-nuclear activists outside the residence of then-prime minister Yoshihiko Noda. Naoto Kan, a DPJ premier when the earthquake and tsunami hit in 2011, has photographs of wind turbines on his website accompanied by the slogan “Realizing a Japan and a world that can progress without nuclear power.” A fourth former premier, Morihiro Hosokawa, said in an interview published in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper today that Abe’s nuclear energy policy was a “crime” and that he was willing to campaign against it.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure a stable and inexpensive supply of energy,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters today. “There is no change to our policy of keeping nuclear power to a minimum.”

Anti-nuclear demonstrations in Tokyo that attracted tens of thousands of people have faded since Abe took office in December. He has stuck with his strategy of retaining nuclear power amid Japan’s record 15 months of trade deficits, which have been caused in part by the need to import more fossil fuel.

Party Cohesion

“The question is whether Koizumi is going to work with anyone outside the Liberal Democratic Party,” said Steven Reed, a professor of political science at Chuo University in Tokyo. “The biggest danger to Abe is a breakdown in the cohesion of the LDP.”

Koizumi, who has spoken out against nuclear reactors in previous, lower-profile speeches, said Abe’s main ruling party was already divided over nuclear power. Abe served as Koizumi’s chief cabinet secretary starting in October 2005 until September 2006 when he was elected to his short-lived first term in September of that year.

“I think it’s divided half-and-half between those who want to get rid of it and those who think it’s necessary,” he said. “If Prime Minister Abe decided we should abolish it, no one could oppose that.”

Koizumi battled for reforms such as privatizing the post office during his 2001-2006 term in office, and has rarely appeared in public since his son Shinjiro took over his seat in parliament in 2009. Abe appointed Shinjiro a parliamentary secretary for Fukushima reconstruction in September.

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