Japan: Ex-PM Koizumi urges Abe to break away from nuclear power

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged current Japanese leader Shinzo Abe on Tuesday to make a decision to break away from nuclear power generation, saying that public opinion supportive of a nuclear-free country should not be underestimated.

“It’s a matter of judgment, or foresight. I want the prime minister to shift to that direction (of zero nuclear power),” Koizumi, a retired politician known for enjoying high popularity while he was in office, said during a speech given at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

The 71-year-old has been drawing attention recently as an influential opponent of nuclear power at a time when Abe’s government is pushing for the restart of the country’s nuclear reactors despite lingering public concerns over their use in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex disaster.

After the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power by winning the lower house election last December, the government led by Abe retracted its predecessor’s goal of phasing out nuclear power in the 2030s. But many opinion polls have shown that a majority of the public is against reactivating reactors.

“There are things a leader may have to do that goes against public opinion. But how you read deep-seated mass opinion is also important as a politician,” Koizumi said during a question-and-answer session that followed the speech.

Although the LDP is known to have long promoted nuclear power before the Fukushima crisis, Koizumi said he suspects current LDP lawmakers can be equally divided between supporters and opponents of nuclear power when looking into their “inner feelings.”

“The power a prime minister holds is enormous. If a prime minister says zero (nuclear power), there wouldn’t be much opposition,” Koizumi added.

Asked about the timeline of achieving a nuclear-free society, Koizumi said he expects nuclear power could be abolished immediately.

“The government says it will restart reactors that are confirmed to be safe, but not many will be able to be back online...then we should better achieve zero immediately,” he said.

All of the country’s 50 commercial reactors are currently offline. About a dozen of them are being checked by the Nuclear Regulation Authority as part of the process toward resuming their operations.

Turning to diplomatic issues, Koizumi justified his repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo during his tenure between 2001 and 2006 which strained Japan’s relations with neighboring countries.

“No countries criticize a prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni except China and South Korea. Japan’s Constitution says that freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated,” he said, referring to the shrine which honors convicted Japanese Class-A war criminals along with the war dead.

Apparently viewing that Abe is eager to make a visit, Koizumi said, “Prime Minister Abe’s current stance is fine.”

Kyodo News, November 12, 2013