The Japanese Nuclear Establishment vs. the Two-Thirds ‘Minority’

There’s a news article in the Washington Post today (1/26/12) that really captures that paper’s view of the way the world works, and how it ought to work. Headlined “After Earthquake, Japan Can’t Agree on the Future of Nuclear Power,” Chico Harlan’s piece begins:

The hulking system that once guided Japan’s pro-nuclear-power stance worked just fine when everybody moved in lockstep. But in the wake of a nuclear accident that changed the way this country thinks about energy, the system has proved ill-suited for resolving conflict. Its very size and complexity have become a problem.

And what exactly is that problem?

Nearly a year after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi facility, Japanese decision-makers cannot agree on how to safeguard their reactors against future disasters, or even whether to operate them at all.

Some experts say this indecision reflects the Japanese tendency to search for, and sometimes depend on, consensus–even when none is likely to emerge. The nation’s system for nuclear decision-making requires the agreement of thousands of officials. Most bureaucrats and politicians in Tokyo want Japan to recommit to nuclear power, but they have been thwarted by a powerful minority–reformists and regional governors.

The obstruction by this “powerful minority,” the Post goes on to say, has “heavy consequences”: “record financial losses for major power companies and economy-stunting electricity shortages.” The story warns that “Japan, once the world’s third-largest nuclear consumer, could be nuclear-free, if it is unable to win approval from local communities to restart the idled units.”

Then, after musing about the “elaborate network of hand-holding” that used to govern Japan’s nuclear infrastructure, Harlan slips in a fact that changes everything:

Since the March 11 accident, just enough has changed to stall that cooperation. Two-thirds of Japanese oppose atomic power. Politicians in areas that host nuclear plants are rethinking the facilities; they hold veto power over any restart. A few vocal skeptics have emerged in the government, and in the aftermath of the accident, Japan has created at least a dozen commissions and task forces for energy-related issues.

So when the pro-nuclear goals of “most bureaucrats and politicians” are “thwarted by a powerful minority,” that’s a sign of the dysfunctional Japanese system, with its “tendency to search for, and sometimes depend on, consensus.” The fact that this “minority” actually represents the large majority of the Japanese public who oppose the technology that has rendered substantial parts of their country uninhabitable–well, that’s just another roadblock that the establishment is going to have to overcome.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.