Japanese party victory a boost for nuclear

Dec. 17, 2012 at 12:04 PM
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TOKYO, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The Liberal Democratic Party's victory in Japan's elections is seen as a boost for nuclear energy, experts say.

Shigeki Matsumoto, an analyst at Nomura said the LDP's victory Sunday would have more implications for Japan's long-term energy policy rather than on the immediate possibility for restarting idled nuclear reactors, the Financial Times reports.

Only two of Japan's 50 reactors have been restarted following shutdowns after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

The outgoing government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, announced in September its goal of eliminating nuclear power in the country by the end of the 2030s. Yet Noda's administration hadn't sought Cabinet approval of the policy.

A formal parliamentary vote to approve LDP leader Shinzo Abe as prime minister is expected Dec. 26.

The LDP's win is likely to "reduce the long-term risk of even relatively new nuclear power plants being forcibly decommissioned," Matsumoto said.

The LDP had built up Japan's reliance on nuclear power while it held power for decades until losing an election in 2009. It maintained its pro-nuclear stance, even after the Fukushima crisis.

As part of its campaign platform, LDP had said it will "within 10 years determine the best ratios of sustainable electricity sources."

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.

Matsumoto predicted the LDP would be neutral regarding near-term restarts of reactors, partly because the Nuclear Regulation Authority, created in September, is expected to be more autonomous than Japan's previous nuclear safety agency.

The LDP has said it will "reach a conclusion on restarting reactors within three years," the Asahi Shimbun reports. The Abe administration is expected to approve the restarts one at a time, when the NRA certifies them to be safe.

In the meantime, shares in Japanese electric utilities that also own nuclear plants experienced steep gains Monday: Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the Fukushima facility, jumped by its daily limit of 33 percent; Kainsai Electric Power, which depended on nuclear for nearly half of its generated power before the Fukushima disaster, rose 18 percent, its largest gain since 1974 and Tohoku Electric Power rose 18 percent.

"Investors judge the result of yesterday's election as a big step forward for the restart" of nuclear reactors, Hirofumi Kawachi, an energy analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities Co. was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg report Monday.

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