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Japan’s elections signal disillusionment and change

Japanese voters throw out a liberal government after three years of political instability, economic failure and the bungled handling of a devastating natural disaster. But nuclear power could be back on the agenda.

The crushing victory by Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party in the weekend’s elections signals Japanese voters are worried, disillusioned and impatient for change. With Japan’s economy still in the doldrums, China’s influence growing and the country still reeling from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, many Japanese want a return to when the country was an economic powerhouse and its regional and domestic security was assured.

Although ignominiously defeated just three years ago, the recycled former prime minister Shinzo Abe has led the LDP back to power on a platform of getting the economy moving, standing up to China and re-starting the country’s nuclear power program. Despite around 80% of Japanese voters wanting to see a phase-out of nuclear power following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, Abe’s pro-nuclear LDP sees nuclear power as central to the economy’s revival.

Japanese voters threw out the governing Democratic Party following a series of failed promises, including tax policies, and an inability to kick-start the economy. With around 56 seats left in the Japanese parliament, the Democratic Party is now only just ahead of the radical right Restoration Party’s 52. The LDP, by comparison, with its long-standing coalition partner New Komeito, looks to have secured around 300 seats.

The first move for the new LDP government will be to try to stimulate the economy ahead of next July’s 2013 upper house elections. On this, the new government should get the support of the upper house, in which it currently has a minority. Should any of the LDP’s proposals not meet with immediate upper house approval, by now commanding more than two-thirds of the lower house it has the power to re-submit rejected legislation, hence putting pressure on the disparate upper house parties.

The first move by the new LDP government is expected to be to increase public spending on capital works and to follow the US policy on “quantitative easing” by printing more money. This will lower the value of the Yen and increase Japan’s export competitiveness. Japan will also take a more robust approach over the Senkaku Islands, which China also claims, and seek to strengthen defence ties with the US.

Australia won’t be disappointed to see Japan attracting China’s strategic attention away from the South China Sea and the Pacific. Having noted that, China is quite capable, as they say, of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

If the LDP can activate its economic stimulus plans, it will be well placed to strengthen its position in the upper house in the July elections. This would allow the LDP to push through its more controversial plan to invest again in the nuclear industry.

From Australia’s perspective, if the LDP can implement its intended programs, along with slightly cheaper Japanese imports, there is potential for stronger Australian resource exports to Japan. Eventually, and perhaps re-starting debate at home, these exports could include uranium.

*Professor Damien Kingsbury is Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University

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  • 1
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Strange that Kingsbury describes Japan as ‘reeling’ from Fukushima with its zero deaths and largely unnecessary evacuations, rather than from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which killed 20,000 and destroyed hundreds of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure.

  • 2
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Mark Duffett, your opinion, without a skerrick of evidence, that evacuations from the vicinity of the Fukushima plant were “largely unnecessary”, is useless in explaining Japan’s fear of nuclear power. I gather that more than 100,000 people are currently displaced from the region, some for the rest of their lives. That emptied landscape, potentially far more valuable and/or costly than the earthquake coast, is now burdened with a man-made monstrosity which neither engineers, politicians or armchair experts can possibly explain. No dollar number will make any sense. Can you not imagine how that would affect a nation and culture? Wouldn’t “reeling” come close or would you prefer something like ‘wrong-headed’?

  • 3
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Charlie, some skerricks: Cuttler 2012:

    This commentary reviews the international radiation protection policy that resulted in the evacuation of more than 90,000 residents from areas near the Fukushima Daiichi NPS and the enormous expenditures to protect them against a hypothetical risk of cancer. The basis for the precautionary measures is shown to be invalid; the radiation level chosen for evacuation is not conservative. The actions caused unnecessary fear and suffering. An appropriate level for evacuation is recommended. Radical changes to the ICRP recommendations are long overdue.

    ourenergypolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/35766131k01w4103.pdf

    nextbigfuture.com/2012/08/fear-of-radiation-has-killed-761-and.html

    And given the election results, perhaps Japan’s fear of nuclear power has been overstated?

  • 4
    John Bennetts
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Hugh is guilty of that which he accuses another author. His entire comment is without a skerrik of supporting knowledge or reasoning.

    MD has demonstrated many, many times, both in Crikey’s comments columns and elsewhere, eg Brave New Climate, a moderated site which is strong on the scwhich has strict rules requiring citations for sources of facts, that he is well qualified to offer an opinion regarding the factual and statistical basis for his comments.

    H(C)McC, on the other hand, has relied again on preconceived, inflexible opinion and attempted character assassination.

  • 5
    John Bennetts
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Previous comment sent in error: Moderator please delete in favour of the following.

    Hugh is guilty of that which he accuses another author. His entire comment is without a skerrik of supporting knowledge or reasoning.

    MD has demonstrated many, many times, both in Crikey’s comments columns and elsewhere, that he is well qualified to offer an opinion regarding the factual and statistical basis for his comments.

  • 6
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Tuesday, 18 December 2012 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Hey Guys, you of the supporting knowledge and reasoning. I suggested there are more than 100,000 people displaced from the ‘radiation exclusion zone’. Correct me if I’m wrong - I heard a figure of 140,000 on the news a couple of days ago. They are unable to return to their farms and townships, unlike their neighbours up and down the coast who at least can return to their homes or what is left of them.
    You are suggesting that some of them could return because the “precautionary measures” are invalidly established. However, they have not returned because they are not allowed to. They are still displaced. Now there is a new government. If that government finds a way to guarantee the safety of returnees and more particularly their children then maybe they will return. But if they don’t accept the guarantees (and remember there are 100,000 of them), are you saying they are wrong? Are you saying that they should believe a couple of Australian experts because Japanese experts, and more importantly their political masters, don’t know how to do this stuff? Big call.
    JB, Read MD’s first comment. There is not one skerrick of evidence for his opinion that a description of Japan as “reeling” is inaccurate or wrong. Oh, of course he has established his credentials in other matters at other times but on this occasion he is dabbling in semantics and won’t offer an alternative.
    So if you were Japanese and living in Japan and there were 100,000 people (give or take) still displaced from the locale of a ruined nuclear power station more than a year after the event and there was no indication as to how long this situation might apply for, how would you describe your feelings? Just give me a word or phrase, something that makes sense to someone reeling (being shaken physically or mentally) by reality.

  • 7
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 18 December 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Charlie, I’m not saying the consequences of the displacements are insignificant. Indeed, it’s one of the points I’m making, that the impact of evacuation (including 761 deaths by one estimate economist.com/blogs/banyan/2012/08/japan-and-atom) is far worse than physical radiation effects would ever have amounted to.

    Nor did I contend that Japan was not ‘reeling’. What I do maintain is that it’s doing so much more from the quake and tsunami than Fukushima (how many people does 20,000 deaths affect? A lot more than 100,000), and that it’s passing strange the author cited the latter and not the former.

  • 8
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Tuesday, 18 December 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Mark, you are right to point out that 20,000 deaths directly from the tsunami is a shocking event. But that was more than a year ago. Those deaths and that significant loss of infrastructure have now become past tense.
    The 100,000 (give or take) displaced citizens are present tense. They are shacked up with fellow citizens in some impromptu arrangement that cannot go on forever. Apparently, many of them are farmers whose land and produce is so polluted it is not fit or safe for human consumption. That problem is down to the nuclear reactor. The land (and sea in some places) was not ruined by the tsunami, it was ruined by an unsafe man-made machine that is now broken and a pox on the landscape. It’s a radiation problem and there’s nothing the nuclear power industry can do to deflect the public gaze from that empty landscape and those 100,000 displaced people. You want Japan to be reeling “…much more from the quake and tsunami than Fukushima”, but then you would want that wouldn’t you. Nuclear power is supposed to be safe but every time there is a serious incident people are displaced, landscapes are permanently damaged and societies are convulsed. There’s nothing “passing strange” about the occurrence - it’s a logical progression. And no doubt there will be more of the same.

  • 9
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 18 December 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    So all those bereavements, broken relationships (personal and economic) and infrastructure…everyone’s over that now. Moved on. All fixed. Right.

    Suggest you read the refs I’ve been putting up. What you are talking about is not a radiation problem, it’s a fear of radiation problem. I’d happily eat 99% of the food produced from Fukushima prefecture. And to talk about ‘permanent damage’ is simply wrong.

  • 10
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Tuesday, 18 December 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Bullshit Mark. Your first paragraph is for you not me. Get over yourself.
    The fear of radiation problem is for the nuclear industry to settle. It is the nuclear industry that creates the standards for food quality, workplace health and safety and so on. The Japanese nuclear industry failed miserably in convincing the Japanese government and people that it knows how to handle a nuclear breakdown. They were absolutely obliged to evacuate, at the very least, a few kilometres around the plant. For a short time. But how long is a short time? And how do you convince a traditional Japanese farmer that the crop he half grew last year that was contaminated and unfit for Japanese consumption, is now miraculously OK? This is no longer a scientific, engineering problem. It is a political and social problem, seemingly but not surprisingly, beyond the wit of the nuclear industry.
    I’d say the site of the Fukushima nuclear power station is permanently damaged and no humans will live and sleep next to it for several generations.

  • 11
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Wednesday, 19 December 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    It is the nuclear industry that creates the standards for food quality, workplace health and safety and so on.”

    Er, no. They are invariably framed by (risk-averse to a fault) government regulators.

    It is a political and social problem” Yes, as I said, fear rather than physics.

    You’d say ‘several generations’, would you Charlie? What was that about opinions and skerricks of evidence again?

  • 12
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Wednesday, 19 December 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Mark, at the nuclear reactor (any nuclear reactor), regulations for workplace health and safety may well be framed by government but only after consultation with the industry. So when the Fukushima reactor was self-immolating, decisions about whether workers should go inside or nearby or stay away altogether - do you think those decisions, about those very workers, were made by consulting with the government or by the industry operatives on the spot? Do you think those nuclear industry experts at the plant, on the day, were in “fear of radiation”? Do you think they got out the government text book (probably written by the industry) or would they have made decisions based on their expert technical and scientific knowledge?
    And when the radioactive particles began to escape from the site into the surrounding countryside was it “fear of radiation” that drove the industry to advise the government that maybe some action should be taken around the subject of evacuation? Or does government act in a vacuum? (Actually, maybe government does act in a vacuum, sometimes it’s hard to tell). Surely you would agree that in these unique circumstances, government can only rely on industry advice? In any case, all those signs posted at Lucas Heights about radiation danger aren’t placed there for fun are they? And they aren’t for the general public when they are wandering around unsupervised. And those emergency shower cubicles scattered about - they aren’t for cooling off on a hot day are they? No, they are for industry workers in case something goes wrong. In case someone makes a mistake. There is something deadly about radiation and we have been educated about it - not by government (or ignorant nutters) but by science, in our schools, by the industry (including the mining and processing industry) and by our political institutions that continue to warn us of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, the most fearsome of which is the nuclear weapon. So we know about radiation, we are constantly warned about it by signage at hospitals, on road and rail transport and laboratories, we know it is devilishly hard to contain because every advanced nation in the world has admitted defeat in building repositories and yet you think we have a “fear of radiation” that is largely unnecessary. Well, I’d say that is an industry problem and I’d suggest that the industry is reeling from its failure at Fukushima.

  • 13
    Luke Weston
    Posted Tuesday, 1 January 2013 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    But how long is a short time?”

    The shortest time necessary to determine - using real health physics and good data, not political conservatism or pseudoscientific activism - whether or not people living in those areas would actually receive very high radiation dose, sufficiently high that it actually hurts people, if they did not remain evacuated.

    If there is no scientific basis to expect any radiological harm at the dose rates present then in the interests of public (psychological) health as well as in the interests of the economy it is important to get people back into the area where they lived, and back to normal lives as quickly as possible.

    Mark, at the nuclear reactor (any nuclear reactor), regulations for workplace health and safety may well be framed by government but only after consultation with the industry.”

    Do you think they got out the government text book (probably written by the industry)”

    Scientific literacy is all just a big bad worldwide conspiracy by the big evil industry!

    Where have we heard that one before? Somebody call Meryl Dorey.

    Or does government act in a vacuum?”

    Obviously the government did act, in this case, very hastily without good data, and without good rational assessment of that data by health physicists.

    Surely you would agree that in these unique circumstances, government can only rely on industry advice?”

    You’re making this “everyone with relevant scientific/technical literacy = ‘industry’ = conspiracy” fallacy again.

    So we know about radiation, we are constantly warned about it by signage at hospitals, on road and rail transport and laboratories, we know”

    And every day we work around warning signs cautioning us of the potential dangers of electricity too. Better ban electricity, right?

    by our political institutions that continue to warn us of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, the most fearsome of which is the nuclear weapon.”

    And that has what to do with nuclear power? Nothing.

    every advanced nation in the world has admitted defeat in building repositories”

    And yet radioactive waste continues to be loaded into WIPP (to pick just one example) every day.

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