Nuclear back on agenda after Japanese election

17 December 2012

The future of Japan's planned nuclear phaseout looks less certain following a landslide victory for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the first general election held since the country suspended most of its nuclear generation.

Winning 294 of the 480 seats in the Japanese lower house, LDP leader Shinzo Abe will form a government with LDP's coalition partner party, New Komeito, which won 31 seats. Yoshihiko Noda has announced that he will resign as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) after the former governing party won only 57 seats.

Nuclear power has been one of the issues around which the 12 parties competing in the election have been campaigning. The economic struggles faced by Japan in recent years were compounded by the devastating effects of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 which also triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. The country's recovery has been hampered by the loss of its nuclear generating capacity, the vast majority of which remains off line for extended safety assessments following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

A policy that would see Japan phase out nuclear energy completely by the 2030s was launched by Noda's government in September. However, the LDP was not supportive of the plans and prior to the elections Abe had branded plans to end the use of nuclear power "irresponsible."

Now the people of Japan - and the world - wait to see how Abe's government will shape energy policy. Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) chairman Makoto Yagi called on the newly-elected government to review and modify the plans announced in September 2012 to make them "more realistic". In a statement, he said that nuclear power should be included in a diverse energy portfolio, considering Japan's limited indigenous energy resources. With its nuclear plants offline Japan has relied on fossil fuels, which it must import, for power generation. This has also led to increases in its greenhouse gas emissions.

The markets were quick to respond to the election results. Shares inTokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) jumped 33%, while Kansai Electric Power, which operates the only nuclear units currently producing power in Japan, saw its shares rise 18%. Other Japanese nuclear utilities saw their share prices increase too, while the Nikkei index rose nearly 1% in response to the election results. The effects have also been felt outside Japan, with The Australian reporting rises of 8.4% and 5% respectively for uranium companies Paladin and Energy Resources of Australia.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: Energy policy, Japan