TOKYO: Japan’s new prime minister Shinzo Abe has voiced his willingness to build new nuclear reactors, reports said Monday, despite widespread public opposition to atomic energy since the Fukushima crisis.
During an interview Sunday with television network TBS, Abe said new reactors would be different from those at Fukushima that were crippled by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, according to major news outlets including the Nikkei business daily and Kyodo News.
“New reactors will be totally different from the ones built 40 years ago, those at the Fukushima Daiichi plant that caused the crisis,” Abe said in the interview, according to the Mainichi Shimbun daily.
“We will be building them while earning the understanding of the public as to how different they are,” he was quoted by the Nikkei as saying.
It was the first time since Abe took office last Wednesday that he has voiced support for new construction, although his pro-business government had been widely expected to restart Japan’s stalled nuclear program.
The day after being installed, his administration began signalling an about-face on the previous government’s policy of working toward a phasing out of atomic power, with a key minister speaking of a policy review.
Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in an election in December with promises to revive the economy. It benefited from voters’ desire to punish the previous administration of Yoshihiko Noda.
While most major parties in the poll set their stalls against nuclear power, none gained enough electoral weight to counter the vote for the LDP.
The LDP in its manifesto remained vague on the issue, pledging to “decide” on restarts within three years.
Currently, all but two of Japan’s 50 reactors are shuttered for safety checks and must get the blessing of a new regulator before being restarted.
In the interview Abe did not clarify when or where new reactors might be built.
He took pains to say only the Fukushima reactors had been damaged by the 9.0 earthquake-triggered tsunami in March 2011 while other regional power plants were undamaged.
He reportedly reiterated a belief that the ballot outcome reflected the electorate’s trust in LDP policies.
“The public seem worried about how we can meet the immediate demand for electricity,” Abe said.
“That’s why voters did not trust (candidates) who played word games, like pushing for ‘ending’ nuclear power or ‘graduating’ from nuclear power,” Abe said, according to the Yomiuri.
Abe’s remarks came the day after he visited the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi plant, where operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) has thousands of workers trying to contain the mess left by reactor meltdowns.
During the visit he described the clean-up at Fukushima as “an unprecedented challenge in human history.”
The government and TEPCO expect to spend more than 30 years decommissioning the crippled reactors, which spewed out radioactive materials over a wide area and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Critics have said the LDP was partly responsible for the extent of the Fukushima catastrophe because of a culture of complicity during its more than five-decade rule.