Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Why Japan Still Hasn't Broken Its Nuclear Addiction

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Why Japan Still Hasn't Broken Its Nuclear Addiction

Article excerpt

TOKYO -- Two years after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a clear majority of Japanese people (73 percent, according to a recent Yomiuri Shimbun poll) opposes the country's use of nuclear power.

But, politically, that sentiment has so far proven more negligible than powerful. No Japanese politician yet has capitalized on the anti-nuclear sentiment. And just last December, in the first major election since the Fukushima crisis, Japanese voters returned to power the Liberal Democratic Party, a traditional pro-nuclear group that had largely engineered the nation's atomic reliance.

There are several reasons why the anti-nuke group punches below its weight, some interrelated. But here's a list of the top factors:

1. Voters still care most about the economy.

When an economy is foundering, it's almost always the top election issue -- no matter what else is going on. An Asahi poll showed that 48 percent of voters in Japan put the economy as their number one concern for the December 2012 elections, well ahead of issues like energy and security. The LDP won in part because of a relatively fresh plan (of monetary easing and fiscal stimulus) to tackle a two-decade period of deflation.

For the anti-nuke crowd, voter emphasis on the economy is especially challenging, because growth is at odds with a phase-out, according to economic data from four separate institutes used by the government. Those institutes tried to model scenarios where, one, Japan in 2030 relied on nuclear power for 25 percent of its energy and, two, Japan in 2030 was nuclear free. The economy of a nuclear- reliant Japan will be somewhere between 1 to 3.5 percent larger than that of a non-nuclear Japan, the institutes said.

2. The pro-nuclear crowd remains powerful.

The group that supports nuclear power in Japan is significant -- and hard for any politician to overlook. …

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