Japanese politicians the servants of the nuclear industry

“Both parties are captive to the power companies, and they follow what the power companies want to do,”

Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant, Kyodo/Reuters, By NORIMITSU ONISHI and KEN BELSONApril 26, 2011“…….Dominion in Parliament The political establishment, one of the great beneficiaries of the nuclear power industry, has shown little interest in bolstering safety. In fact, critics say, lax oversight serves their interests. Costly renovations get in the way of building new plants, which create construction projects, jobs and generous subsidies to host communities.

The Liberal Democrats, who governedJapannearly without interruption from 1955 to 2009, have close ties to the management of nuclear-industry-related companies. The Democratic Party, which has governed since, is backed by labor unions, which, inJapan, tend to be close to management.

“Both parties are captive to the power companies, and they follow what the power companies want to do,” said Taro Kono, a Liberal Democratic lawmaker with a reputation as a reformer.

UnderJapan’s electoral system, in which a significant percentage of legislators is chosen indirectly, parties reward institutional backers with seats in Parliament. In 1998, the Liberal Democrats selected Tokio Kano, a former vice president at Tepco, for one of these seats.

Backed by Keidanren —Japan’s biggest business lobby, of which Tepco is one of the biggest members — Mr. Kano served two six-year terms in the upper house of Parliament until 2010. In a move that has raised eyebrows even in a world of cross-fertilizing interests, he has returned to Tepco as an adviser.

While in office, Mr. Kano led a campaign to reshape the country’s energy policy by putting nuclear power at its center. He held leadership positions on energy committees that recommended policies long sought by the nuclear industry, like the use of a fuel called mixed oxide, or mox, in fast-breeder reactors. He also opposed the deregulation of the power industry.

In 1999, Mr. Kano even complained in Parliament that nuclear power was portrayed unfairly in government-endorsed school textbooks. “Everything written about solar energy is positive, but only negative things are written about nuclear power,” he said, according to parliamentary records.

Most important, in 2003, on the strength of Mr. Kano’s leadership, Japanadopted a national basic energy plan calling for the growth of nuclear energy as a way to achieve greater energy independence and to reduceJapan’s emission of greenhouses gases. The plan and subsequent versions mentioned only in broad terms the importance of safety at the nation’s nuclear plants despite the 2002 disclosure of cover-ups at Fukushima Daiichi and a 1999 accident at a plant northeast of Tokyo in which high levels of radiation were spewed into the air. ….

So entrenched is the nuclear power village that it easily survived postwarJapan’s biggest political shake-up. When the Democratic Party came to power 20 months ago, it pledged to reform the nuclear industry and strengthen the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Hearings on reforming the agency were held starting in 2009 at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said Yosuke Kondo, a lawmaker of the governing Democratic Party who was the ministry’s deputy minister at the time. But they fizzled out, he said, after a new minister was appointed in September 2010.

The new minister, Akihiro Ohata, was a former engineer atHitachi’s nuclear division and one of the most influential advocates of nuclear power in the Democratic Party. He had successfully lobbied his party to change its official designation of nuclear power from a “transitional” to “main” source of energy. An aide to Mr. Ohata, who became Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in January, said he was unavailable for an interview.

As moves to strengthen oversight were put on the back burner, the new government dusted off the energy plan designed by Mr. Kano, the Tepco adviser and former lawmaker. It added fresh details, including plans to build 14 new reactors by 2030 and raise the share of electricity generated by nuclear power and minor sources of clean energy to 70 percent from 34 percent.

What is more,Japanwould make the sale of nuclear reactors and technology the central component of a long-term export strategy to energy-hungry developing nations. A new company, the International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan, was created to do just that. Its shareholders were made up of the country’s nine main nuclear plant operators, three manufacturers of nuclear reactors and the government itself. …….


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