Mon, Sep 08, 2014 - Page 5 News List

New minister faces tough time with nuclear restarts

AFP, TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yuko Obuchi wait for photographers at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have hoped that a 40-year-old mother-of-two with impeccable political pedigree might prove the acceptable face of nuclear power when he appointed her as industry minister. However, observers say Yuko Obuchi will have her work cut out convincing a public still badly scarred by the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster that it is safe to switch the country’s 48 atomic reactors back on.

“I too am raising children,” Obuchi told a press conference shortly after being made Japan’s first female minister of economy, trade and industry. “If people say they are worried, I think it is only natural... The central government must offer a full explanation to these sentiments.”

Naming a young mother to the job was “a cunning move by Mr Abe,” said Greenpeace Japan nuclear campaigner Kazue Suzuki, because the implicit message is that if someone who has children says nuclear power is safe, it sounds more credible.

Suzuki said people would not fall for such a ploy, and that if Obuchi wants to represent them, she should oppose nuclear restarts.

Obuchi, the daughter of former Japanese prime minister Keizo Obuchi, is a rising star in the Liberal Democratic Party and, having first been a minister at the age of 34, holds the record as the youngest woman ever to make the grade.

Since the disaster at Fukushima Dai-ichi, where tsunami knocked out cooling systems and sent reactors into meltdown, Japan’s nuclear stable has gone offline, taking with it more than a quarter of the country’s electricity supply.

That has left resource-starved Japan reliant on expensive fossil fuel imports, which has played havoc with the balance of payments and has pushed up prices for hard-pressed consumers.

At her inaugural press conference, Obuchi repeated the Abe administration line that policy remained “to reduce our reliance on nuclear plants by actively introducing renewable energy and thorough energy saving.”

Political talent notwithstanding, Obuchi is facing an uphill challenge, said Hikaru Hiranuma, a research fellow at The Tokyo Foundation, a think tank.

“She needs to address several difficult issues: safety at nuclear plants, preparations in case of an accident such as evacuation schemes and drills, compensation for accident victims and how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel,” he said. “It will be difficult for her to justify the government’s plan to continue using nuclear as an important source of power, unless she comes up with answers to these challenges.”

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