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Democratic Party faces rift over advancing target to rid Japan of nuclear power

The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) held a meeting of its energy and environment research committee on Feb. 16 to accelerate debate on advancing its target of making Japan a nuclear power-free nation in 2030 instead of sometime in the 2030s.

    The DP leadership under President Renho plans to unveil the objective as a centerpiece of a party convention on March 12, but proponents of nuclear energy within the party balked. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the party's major backer, directly conveyed its complaint about the nuclear power-free target to Renho on Feb. 16.

    During the research panel meeting, one lawmaker after another expressed dissatisfaction over moving up the nuclear power-free target year, saying, ''Is it OK for the party's executives by themselves to make a decision on such an important issue? The party could break up.'' Renho and more than 60 DP lawmakers attended the meeting.

    Koichiro Gemba, head of the panel, said after the meeting, ''There were many opinions about discussing the issue more fully.'' He added that he was not sure what the party leadership can say about the controversial nuclear policy at the party convention.

    The internal rift came to the fore earlier this month when Gemba, acting on the intentions of Renho and other party executives, told a meeting of the energy and environment research committee that the party will spell out the 2030 target year in a draft nuclear power-free bill in light of ongoing energy and electricity-saving efforts. The DP leadership is particular about the target because it wants to re-emphasize its nuclear power-free campaign by advancing an end to nuclear power from its earlier target of sometime in the 2030s, as championed in the party's plank for the 2012 House of Representatives election.

    But Gemba's remarks about advancing the target to the year 2030 surprised proponents of nuclear energy and those skeptical about ending Japan's dependence on nuclear power within the party. House of Councillors member Masao Kobayashi, a former member of the Federation of Electric Power Related Industry Workers Union of Japan, and others told DP Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda on Feb. 9, ''If we review (the target) based on a foregone conclusion, it would cause confusion within the party.''

    Repercussions have also reverberated through supporting labor unions. Rengo President Rikio Kozu met with DP chief Renho on Feb. 16 and expressed concern, saying, ''DP must not waver over its policy. Simply moving up the goal even without a road map for ending reliance on nuclear power sometime in the 2030s would be a big blow to the DP.'' Rengo postponed Feb. 17's scheduled regular meeting with the party.

    But Renho has been in contact with various labor unions to win their understanding of the 2030 target. She told a news conference on Feb. 16 that she still hopes to declare an end to Japan's nuclear power in 2030 at the party convention on March 12, a day after the sixth anniversary of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster.

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