TOKYO, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- A new political party, expected to become the unifying force of an anti-nuclear energy coalition, has been formed in Japan ahead of next month's elections for the lower house of Parliament.
The upcoming vote would be the first national election since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.
In announcing the Japan Future Party on Tuesday, Shiga prefecture Gov. Yukiko Kada, an environmental sociologist, said the phasing out of nuclear power would be one of her party's six key policy issues, Asahi Shimbun reports.
Prior to the Fukushima crisis, nuclear power provided 30 percent of Japan's electricity, making it the world's third-biggest nuclear generator. The government had aimed to increase that percentage to 50 by 2030.
Currently only two of Japan's 50 reactors are in operation.
The future of Japan's nuclear power generation is expected to be a key issue in the Dec. 16 elections.
While a number of Japan's small political parties oppose nuclear power, they have failed to build anti-nuclear momentum on their own, the Asahi Shimbun report says. But if Kada can round up those parties and other anti-nuclear politicians, her party could become a key player in the elections, rivaling the Japan Restoration Party to challenge the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is expected to include its target of "zero nuclear power plants" operating in the 2030s, as stated in its Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment policy released in September.
The LDP hasn't clearly stated its position on the issue, the newspaper reports, but the party was a staunch supporter of nuclear energy until its defeat in the 2009 election.
In an interview Monday with Bloomberg News, party Chairman Hiroyuki Hosoda, citing energy prices, said "we are clearly in a situation where we need to restart the nuclear reactors."
Post-Fukushima, Japan's power utilities had little choice but to import more liquefied natural gas.
In 2011, Japan's total LNG purchases increased more than 50 percent year on year, reaching an all-time high of $60.3 billion, says the Japan External Trade Organization, resulting in Japan's first trade deficit in 31 years.
An editorial Monday in the Yomiuri Shimbun said the Fukushima crisis has resulted in the public becoming increasingly anxious over the safety of nuclear reactors and urged the government to "take all possible measures to boost their safety and prevent a similar crisis from occurring."
Noting that Japan's self-sufficiency in energy is just 4 percent, however, the editorial said it was "unrealistic for the nation to immediately abandon nuclear power."