Japan energy plan verdict delayed

The Japanese cabinet will hold off on approving a draft energy plan submitted in December until next month, according to a senior government official.

The move further delays an official decision on the role that nuclear power and renewable resources will play in the nation’s future energy mix.

The cabinet was set to approve the proposal this month, but will now wait until February, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Suga denied that the cabinet was postponing its decision on the draft energy plan – which identifies nuclear power as an important part of the nation’s future energy mix – until after the Tokyo gubernatorial election on 9 February.

But it is widely believed that the government is dragging its feet on concerns that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) controversial energy policies could shape the outcome of the vote.

“The plan is quite unpopular and they are afraid the forceful adoption of (it) could affect the election,” according to Mika Ohbayashi, director of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF).

With former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa now running for governor of Tokyo against Yoichi Masuzoe, an LDP-backed former health minister, the election is turning into a proxy vote on the energy policies of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe and the LDP are pushing to restart some of the nation’s 50 shuttered nuclear reactors, despite widespread public opposition to nuclear power in the wake of the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Hosokawa and his main supporter – former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi – have emerged as staunch anti-nuclear voices in recent months. A Hosokawa victory in the upcoming gubernatorial election could deal a serious blow to the LDP’s energy plans.

Koizumi and Hosokawa both supported nuclear power when they led the nation. But last autumn, Koizumi burst back onto the national scene by aggressively criticising the current LDP government’s push to restart the country’s reactors, which have been shut down for safety checks in response to public fears.

In a speech in November, Koizumi urged Abe to abandon nuclear energy in favour of renewable resources.