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Naoto Kan’s statement taking on Japan’s nuclear industry isn’t likely to accomplish anything.


This week, Japan’s lame duck prime minister, Naoto Kan, surprised some observers by coming out against nuclear power, announcing that Japan should scrap its target of 53 percent nuclear dependency in 2030 and focus instead on fostering renewable energy sources. What this means policy-wise is still murky, given that Kan’s credibility is at an all-time low and the Japanese cabinet has yet to show any sign of carrying out his plans. But it may say a lot about the mixed fortunes of Japan’s so-called "nuclear village," the industrial-bureaucratic lobby that was once of the most influential utilities lobbying force in the world.

Before Fukushima, Japan was one of the countries most committed to nuclear energy, with about 30 percent of its electricity coming from atomic reactors and a regulatory structure that appeared to many to side with the nuclear industry in a close relationship that created at least the appearance of collusion. Rather than use solely the power of the state — i.e., the courts — to convince locals to accept the expansion of nuclear power, utilities provided massive direct and indirect subsidies to local communities to buy their acceptance. And the government looked past all this.

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