The Noda Cabinet’s sort-of resolve to eliminate nuclear power by the end of the 2030s lasted exactly one day when it got lost in Aomori Prefecture, where METI Minister Yukio Edano told Governor Shingo Mimura yesterday (15 September 2012) that the three nuclear power plants, including two in Aomori Prefecture*, currently under construction under permits issued by the national government would be commissioned. The nuclear power plants will each receive a 40 year operating license at commission, which would keep them running into the mid-2050s, well past the Noda Cabinet’s time limit.
* One of them is unlikely to be commissioned any time soon if ever, but that’s another story.
This PR disaster happened because Aomori Prefecture had a trump card. A significant amount of nuclear waste from nuclear power plants from elsewhere in Japan has been sent to Rokkashomura in Aomori from which plutonium (and uranium) will be eventually extracted to be used as nuclear fuel. If all the nuclear power plants are going to be shut down after 40 years in commission according to the Noda government’s decision, there will be no justification for reprocessing*. The Aomori authorities were making use of this point to threaten to exercise their right to send back the nuclear waste to the power plants in case reprocessing became unnecessary, which would in turn all but immediately stop the power plants because they would no longer have a place to store their fresh nuclear waste. The Noda Cabinet, already under fire from all four major national business associations and facing questions from the United States, France and the UK, each of which has a genuine stake in the Japanese outcome, had no option but to cave on day 2.
* Actually, Japan could decide to leave the NPT and develop a plutonium bomb. But that’s another story.
This is what happens when a policy decision is made by cabinet members with conflicting policy agendas out of fear—fear of voter backlash*, fear of business complaints—and coming up with a compromise document that is designed to be something for everyone but winds up being nothing to all.
* I now believe that the likelihood of an early snap election has diminished somewhat due to developments in the LDP leadership election. But that’s another story.
BTW I think I’ve figured out something important regarding the Senkaku staredown. But that’s really another story.