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Spotlight on party pledges in upper house election: Energy policy

Five years have passed since the outbreak of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture, and reactivation of idled nuclear reactors is under way under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

However, the public's trust in the safety of nuclear power plants has not been restored, as the Otsu District Court has issued a provisional injunction ordering Kansai Electric Power Co. to suspend operations at its Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture.

Following the upcoming July 10 House of Councillors election, all members of the chamber, including those who do not face election this time, will have been elected after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster. As such, it will be a landmark election in which Japan's future energy policy is a key point of contention.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) pledges during the ongoing campaign for the upper house election to prioritize safety and go ahead with restarting idled nuclear plants while gaining cooperation and understanding from those in municipalities hosting such power stations. The LDP made a similar campaign pledge in the December 2014 House of Representatives election.

In a June 21 debate between political party leaders in the Diet, Prime Minister Abe stated that nuclear power cannot be completely eliminated now although the government is trying to reduce Japan's reliance on atomic power as much as possible.

When Abe visited four locations in Niigata Prefecture, which hosts the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, on June 29 for campaigning, the prime minister never mentioned the nuclear energy issue.

Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, is more cautious about nuclear power policy. The party is aiming to eliminate nuclear power in the future. It also states that the government should decide whether to reactivate idled nuclear plants after confirming the reactors meet the new regulatory standards and gaining understanding from local bodies hosting such power plants. In its campaign pledge, Komeito states that it will never accept installation of any new nuclear reactors, showing consideration for residents of areas hosting nuclear plants who are worried about the safety of atomic energy.

The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) pledges to utilize all possible policy resources to eliminate atomic power by the 2030s. The authorities approved the extension of the lifespan of the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture on June 20, raising concerns that rules limiting the lifetime of nuclear reactors to 40 years could be hollowed out. In response to such fears, the DP declares that it will strictly implement the 40-year rule with an eye to decommissioning aging reactors. Moreover, the party pledges to approve reactivation of idled nuclear plants on condition that "responsible" evacuation plans be worked out for local residents in case of an accident.

The Initiatives from Osaka party (IFO) does not clarify whether it agrees to the restart of idled nuclear reactors, and states that if significant progress is made on the liberalization of the electric power market and the introduction of renewable energy, existing nuclear plants will lose their competitiveness in the market and fade out.

The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) criticizes the government's energy policy saying, "Efforts to solve problems with nuclear waste have been deadlocked, and the government's policy of sticking to nuclear power has already collapsed." The JCP is demanding that all nuclear plants be decommissioned.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) incorporated the enactment of a basic law aimed at eliminating nuclear power by 2025 in its campaign pledges for the upper house race. The People's Life Party (PLP) and the New Renaissance Party (NRP) are also insisting that Japan should phase out atomic power.

However, Takeo Kikkawa, professor at Tokyo University of Science who is well versed in energy policy, criticizes political parties for failing to show a road map toward solving difficult problems involving atomic power, including how to deal with radioactive waste.

"It's regrettable that no political party shows a road map toward solving specific problems such as the disposal of nuclear waste. We have no choice but be pessimistic about the future if politicians are discussing the energy issue only for their election alone," he said.

Four opposition parties -- the DP, JCP, SDP and PLP -- refrain from mentioning the nuclear power issue in some constituencies hosting nuclear plants where they fielded joint candidates, because of differences in policies between themselves.

All political parties attach importance to the development and introduction of renewable energy.

The government has set a goal of increasing the ratio of renewable energy to all power sources to 22 to 24 percent by 2030.

The JCP and SDP have set bolder goals, calling for raising the ratio of renewable energy to 40 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050, respectively.

On the other hand, the LDP emphasizes the economic aspect of renewable energy, saying, "Renewable energy should play a leading role in raising Japan's gross domestic product to 600 trillion yen.

The DP pledges to promote the local production of energy for local consumption, which it says will revitalize local economies.

However, none of the parties clearly show how they will aim to achieve their respective goals.

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Each party's public pledge on energy policy states the following.

LDP: Japan's reliance on nuclear power should be reduced by introducing renewable energy and other measures. Nuclear plants that meet the new regulatory standards should be reactivated.

DP: Rules limiting the lifetime of nuclear reactors to 40 years should be strictly enforced. Installation of any new nuclear reactor should not be approved. Nuclear plants should not be restarted without responsible evacuation plans for local residents.

Komeito: Installation of any new nuclear reactor should not be approved. The party will aim to completely eliminate atomic power stations. Decisions on whether to restart nuclear plants should be made after confirming they meet the new regulatory standards and local municipalities hosting the plants consent to reactivation.

JCP: A political decision should be made to completely eliminate nuclear plants. No idled nuclear plants should be restarted. The ratio of renewable energy to all electric power generated in Japan should be raised to 40 percent by 2030.

IFO: Market transactions of electric power should be expanded, and the introduction of renewable energy should be promoted. Existing nuclear plants will likely fade out.

SDP: All plans to build new nuclear reactors should be scrapped. Idled atomic power stations should not be reactivated. A new basic law aimed at completely eliminating atomic power by 2025 should be enacted.

PLP: Nuclear power should be eliminated, and no idled atomic power stations should be reactivated. The development of new energy sources should be promoted and new business and job opportunities should be created.

Party for Japanese Kokoro: Idled nuclear reactors whose safety has been confirmed should be restarted. Through the development of renewable energy sources, a stable ratio of energy sources should be achieved.

NRP: Idled nuclear plants should not be restarted, no new nuclear reactors should be constructed and no nuclear plants should be exported. Renewable energy should be proactively introduced. Hydrogen should be actively utilized as an energy source.

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