Plans to restart Japan's idled nuclear power reactors remain on track after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pro-nuclear ruling coalition secured a majority in the upper house of parliament in elections yesterday.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner New Komeito secured 135 of the 242 seats in the upper house of parliament (the Diet). The win means that the coalition now controls both the upper and lower house, breaking the Diet deadlock which has hindered the government for the past three years.
In an election in December, the LDP won 294 of the 480 seats in the Japanese lower house. At that time, Yoshihiko Noda announced that he would resign as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) after the former governing party won only 57 seats. Noda's government had launched a policy in September 2012 that would have seen Japan phase out nuclear energy completely by the 2030s. However, the LDP was not supportive of the plans, with Abe calling them "irresponsible." In the latest election, the DPJ won just 17 seats in the upper house.
Whilst not giving explicit details of its long-term nuclear energy policy, Abe's coalition government has expressed general support for the resumption of nuclear power generation, given public understanding and independent oversight by the new Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA).
Speaking after the latest victory, Abe said, "I believe we received the votes of those who wanted a political sector that could make decisions and that would push forward economic policies under a stable government." He added that the win will remove the imbalance in the Diet chambers which will "further accelerate the execution of policy."
All but two of Japan's 50-reactor fleet have remained closed following the natural disaster of 11 March 2011 that struck Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi. Only two units - Kansai's Ohi 3 and 4 - have been allowed to resume operations to help meet power demand in the Kansai region. Ohi 3 and 4 are set to continue in operation until September when they will enter their next scheduled maintenance outage.
The NRA published new regulations earlier this month requiring nuclear operators to show that their units are prepared for extraordinary external events comparable to the 2011 natural disaster.
So far four Japanese utilities - Kansai, Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu - have applied for permission to restart twelve of the country's non-operating reactors.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News