Japan must restart its nuclear power plants quickly after confirming they’re safe, a senior opposition official said, three weeks ahead of an election that polls indicate will return his party to power.
“Looking at energy prices, we are clearly in a situation where we need to restart the nuclear reactors,” Hiroyuki Hosoda, the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s general council said yesterday in an interview in Tokyo.
All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors remain shut after last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster that forced the evacuation of 160,000 people. Eight power utilities reported combined first-half losses of more than $8 billion, signaling rates will increase to keep the world’s third-biggest economy running.
The future of nuclear power is an issue in next month’s election. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan has pledged to wean the country from atomic power by 2030, while the LDP calls for a decision on whether to restart all reactors within the next three years. Polls show two-thirds of voters support neither major party, indicating the LDP may have to form a coalition with lawmakers who favor abolishing nuclear energy.
“It’s difficult to make the argument that we should restart the reactors because of economic problems, given the disaster at Fukushima,” Hosoda said. “But we believe we should restart them quickly when their safety has been confirmed.”
The DPJ is set to renew its pledge to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power to zero by the 2030s in an election platform to be revealed later today. Before the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, almost 30 percent of the country’s electricity came from atomic energy.
Thousands of nuclear power opponents held weekly protests outside Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s office earlier this year. A government-backed public forum found in August that 47 percent of participants favored cutting nuclear power to zero.
Kansai Electric Power Co. and seven other power utilities posted a combined loss of 674 billion yen ($8.2 billion) in the six months ended Sept. 30, due to rising costs for running gas, oil and coal plants to make up for lost nuclear power generation. The companies face a bill of about 6.8 trillion yen for fuel this fiscal year, almost double that in the 12 months before the Fukushima meltdown.
Hosoda also echoed LDP leader Shinzo Abe’s criticism of the Bank of Japan’s efforts to end more than a decade of deflation. The party has called for unlimited monetary easing to meet an inflation target of 2 percent and advocates more political influence over the central bank, drawing objections from Noda.
“The whole world is carrying out extremely large-scale monetary easing,” Hosoda said. “Japan is the only slow one. The DPJ continues with its criticism based on the illusion that large-scale easing, or providing funds to the market will lead to 1940s-style inflation.”
He added that the LDP might not insist on changing the law governing the BOJ if the central bank takes more easing measures of its own accord.
A poll published by Kyodo news on Nov. 25 showed 18.7 percent of respondents plan to vote for the LDP in the proportional representation section of the election, compared with 8.4 percent for the DPJ and 10.3 percent for the Japan Restoration Party. The survey was carried out by phone on Nov. 24-25 and provided no margin of error.