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HOME  > Past issues  > 2011 August 24 - 30  > Nuclear energy and political parties – Komei Party (Part 1)
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2011 August 24 - 30 [NUCLEAR CRISIS]

Nuclear energy and political parties – Komei Party (Part 1)

August 25 & 26, 2011

When the government in May ordered the suspension of operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, the Komei Party carried out a fierce campaign against the order. The following month, the party published its comprehensive economic policy aimed at reconstruction from the disaster and revival of the national economy, in which it calls for a mid-term review of power generation centered on nuclear energy. However, the call for a review waffles on whether to phase out or to continue to promote N-energy. It also shows no serious self-criticism for having promoted nuclear energy together with the Liberal Democratic Party under the LDP-Komei coalition governments.

Monopoly of committee chair positions

The Komei Party in its inaugural policy “Toward well-being for the general public” published in November 1964 expressed strong expectations of nuclear energy, saying “The future of nuclear power generation, along with development of science and technology in the future and promotion of a comprehensive national energy policy, promises further progress.”

From 1967 to 1972, the Komei Party held the chair of the House of Representatives Special Committee on Science and Technology (SCST), even though an opposition party. In the House of Councilors counterpart committee, it also obtained the position of committee chair from 1968 to 1983.

The period during which the Komei Party was exclusively chairing the Lower House SCST coincided with one when the Atomic Energy Basic Law was revised to enable promoting the nuclear fuel cycle at the request of the United States and Japan’s business circles, and a Power Reactor and Nuclear Development Corporation (PNC) bill was being discussed.

Business circles put importance on discussions of the Lower House SCST. In a front-page article of the Atomic Industrial Forum (AIF) newspaper dated July 23, 1970, the business circles called on three committee members from the LDP, Socialist Party of Japan (SPJ), and Komei, for bipartisan support for inserting funds for securing enriched uranium in the next year’s budget.

Sometime opponent

Still, against the background of residents’ opposition movement across Japan, the Komei Party from 1974 to 1977 opposed the “construction of nuclear power plants whose safety has not been confirmed.” Yet the party in the late 1970s gave up its “progressive” pose, under the influence of the reactionary “Defend free society” campaign carried out by the LDP.

In its 1978 Convention, the Komei Party returned to approval of constructing nuclear power plans provided that the agreement of local residents concerned was obtained.

The January 1980 SPJ-Komei Agreement approved nuclear power generation, thus luring the SPJ into changing its policy toward accepting nuclear energy.

Urged by the Komei Party, the SPJ made a shift toward promoting nuclear energy. In Japan, the number of NPPs sharply increased from 21 in the late 1970s to 54 today, while new construction of NPPs has stopped in the United States since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.

In April of this year, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear accident, Saito Tetsuo, the Komei Party’s acting secretary general, said, “Learning lessons from the 1999 JCO criticality accident in Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture, we have broken away from the safety myth [of nuclear energy]….and led the effort to enact the Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Act.”

The criticality accident at JCO’s uranium reprocessing plant occurred right before the inauguration of the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic, Liberal, and Komei parties. Though it was delayed due to the accident, the new government was launched on October 5, five days afterward.

Did Komei really break away from the safety myth under the ruling coalition as Saito claims?

Becoming a promoter of nuclear power

Following the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the Komei Party declared in its party convention in 1990 that it will “pursue a system that does not rely on nuclear energy in the future.” However, this policy was changed in 1999, when Komei pledged in its extraordinary convention to “accept light-water and other nuclear fission reactors as transient means and promote fundamental research on fast-breeder reactors as one option.”

Since Komei joined the coalition government, five new nuclear power reactors started operation. In 2002, the Atomic Energy Basic Law was established. The government in 2003 formulated the first Basic Energy Plan, which announced the promotion of nuclear power generation as the “key electric source.”

Environment minister

In 2006, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy published a report, “Plan for a nuclear energy nation, Japan’s choice.” Komei representative Saito contributed an article to this report titled, “Nuclear energy is the most familiar natural energy source to us.”

In the article Saito wrote, “I highly appreciate the plan as it clearly shows ways to use nuclear energy to improve welfare of the human society as a peaceful nation as well as our nation’s role and task in international society,” and, “The Komei Party will do its utmost to support promotion of the plan.”

On November 13, 2008, during Saito’s tenure as environment minister, Japanese Communist Party representative Ichida Tadayoshi urged the government to drastically revise its nuclear energy policy and carry out a full-scale introduction of alternative energy sources at an Upper House environment committee meeting. Saito responded to Ichida by saying, “I don’t think we excessively depend on nuclear energy. [The ratio of nuclear power generation] can be a little higher.”

On April 20, 2009, Environment Minister Saito issued a proposal, “Reform for green economy and society,” in which he called for “steady construction of nuclear power reactors on the absolute premise of thoroughly ensured safety” and a “drastic increase in the ratio of nuclear power generation.” This proposal was included in Komei’s manifesto for the general election later in the same year.

(To be continued)
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