Japan’s prime minister wants a future without nuclear power

Japan’s prime minster, using the occasion of Friday’s anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bomb dropped by the United States, has pledged a nuclear free future for his country – making it a fourth nation to turn it’s back on atomic energy in the wake of Fukushima Daiichi.

It would seem ironic that the country that is experiencing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago would be so late in its official overtures to dump nuclear energy, but deep ties between the nuclear lobbies, utilities and government regulators continue to divide much of the government’s rhetoric from the hundreds and thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators who turn out weekly.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan was the first highly placed Japanese official to speak publicly in explicitly anti-nuclear terms.

Addressing those gathered to commemorate the 66th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Kan said the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, means Japan must turn to other energy sources.

“The large-scale, long-running nuclear accident has triggered radiation leakage, causing serious concerns not only in Japan but also in the world,” said Kan at a memorial ceremony in Hiroshima’s Peace Park, as quoted by Agency France Presse.

“I will reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, aiming at creating a society that will not rely on atomic power generation,” he added.

Since March 11 radiation has leaked into air, soil and sea and forced tens of thousands to leave their homes, leading to massive public anger. Radiation also continues to rise in food samples from beef to rice and seafood – all staples of Japan’s diet.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, has agreed to snip her country’s nuclear lifeline, shutting down the last German reactor by 2022.

Switzerland plans to follow suit and close down all five of its reactors by 2035.

Italy, which never had a nuclear programme to begin with, turned out in surprising force in June to vote in a referendum that outlaws nuclear power in the country.

Kan’s remarks lacked the dramatic luster of plans and dates by which Japan will stop using nuclear power in its energy mix.

But Kan, a one time environmental activist, did promise to boost alternative energy sources to 20 per cent of the nation’s energy mix by the 2020s. They currently make up about nine per cent, most of it hydroelectric power – and another 20 percent is accounted for by nuclear power.

Kan, who also plans to attend a ceremony to mark the Nagasaki bombing on Tuesday, stressed in his speech: “We must never forget the calamity of a nuclear arm that attacked Hiroshima 66 years ago. We must never let it happen again.”

Other Japanese officials who spoke to commemorate the dropping of the first atomic bomb drew the dramatic and clear parallels between the bomb and Fukushima Daiichi.

Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui said; “”The continuing radiation scare has made many people live in fear and undermined people’s confidence in nuclear power,” and added that the government must review its energy policy.

At a press conference in Hiroshima afterwards, Kan said a nuclear accident and an atomic bombing share something in common – causing worries due to spreading radiation.

“I felt even more strongly (after the accident) about the importance to seek a society free from nuclear weapons, a society that doesn’t trigger problems due to radiation,” he said, according to AFP.

“The government’s policy and my speech (at the ceremony) correspond with each other.”

But the embattled prime minister has been fighting calls to resign amid rock-bottom poll ratings, while his government is still struggling to control the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

The government and operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) are aiming to bring the damaged nuclear reactors at the plant to a state of cold shutdown by January.