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Monday, December 31, 2012

Japanese Business Pushing Nuclear Power: A Prime Minister Capitulates

Reversing his campaign pledge to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, the newly elected prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, said he would have more nuclear reactors built in Japan. "They will be completely different from those at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant," he claimed on national television. Putting what can be said to be at the very least a silver lining on a rather gray, radioactive cloud, he added the following: “With public understanding, we will be building anew.” The shift is notable because the previous government, that of Yoshihiko Noda, had sought to phase out nuclear power by 2040. In fact, Abe’s own party, the Liberal Democratic Party, had in its platform an aim “to establish an economy and society that does not need to rely on nuclear power.” How can this turn-around be explained? We may not need to look far.
                Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Who or what is behind is turn to support nuclear power?        source: Itsuo Inouye
It is perhaps no accident that Japan’s biggest business lobby, the Keidanren, was publicly lobbying for the government to restart the closed nuclear reactors in Japan. One might add to the mix the political influence of Tepco, the company that owns and ran the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. Whether generally pro-business or in the more narrow interest of Tepco, Abe’s turn-about may illustrate how powerful private interests can be at odds with the public good—even the survival of a people. Put another way, profits before people, or economic growth at the expense of the future, can operate as though tunnel vision or even purblind. That a narrow perspective can ensue even within two years of a major disaster points to the baleful nature of the power of money in government. Indeed, Tepco’s political ties in the Japanese government can explain why the disaster occurred in the first place.
The lesson here is perhaps the lack of any learning curve—even a sort of societal amnesia—when the political power of business is so much that political leaders will undercut even their own word as though with impunity. Particularly problematic is the scenario in which a “silent majority” bent on boosting economic growth tacitly rewards the business lobby by refusing to hold a political leader accountable for having turned on his or her own campaign promise within days of being sworn into office. Without realizing the extent to which business shapes the media-driven public discourse, the Japanese people may have sold themselves out—literally risking their own extinction. Is the underlying problem, therefore, a weakness of democracy or plutocracy (i.e., rule by the monied interest)—or is democracy at risk for being manipulated by invisible powers behind the throne in the name of democracy and the public good?


Hiroko Tabuchi, “Japan’s New Leader Endorses Nuclear Plants,” The New York Times, December 30, 2012.