A Good Sign?
Somewhat to the surprise of many, the Japanese government recently announced its decision on the future of nuclear power in Japan, and it wasn't the total phaseout by the 2030s that had previously been proposed.
Some view the turnaround as a capitulation to Japanese industry, which had been against the phaseout. Others see the decision as still vague, leaving a climate of ongoing uncertainty.
Alternatively, the decision might be viewed as an example of what the late President John F. Kennedy dubbed "profiles in courage"--doing the politically unpopular thing out of a conviction that it is the right thing to do.
Others would say just the opposite. Since the announcement was accompanied by ambiguous wording that the government would still take the phaseout goal "into consideration" in further deciding the energy future of the country, what might initially appear to be an act of political courage could actually be an attempt to straddle the fence and attempt to appease both sides.
We cannot know what the inner thinking is of the decision-makers, so it is hard to make a convincing argument about what motivated the Japanese government to make this decision, but they certainly were aware that a decision to shutter all nuclear power plants in the country was fraught with danger for Japan.
After all, many observers, both inside and outside Japan, predicted a rather dire future for a Japan without nuclear power. Predictions are not facts, of course, but reasonable analyses of the cost and feasibility of replacement power, and the consequences of severe power shortages, present a compelling argument for, at a minimum, allowing a longer period for the possible operation of nuclear power plants and incorporating more flexibility in making decisions about Japan's energy future.
Thus, while some characterize the actions of the Japanese Cabinet as caving in to industry, it is encouraging that the Japanese Cabinet appeared to recognize all voices and perspectives in arriving at its decision, and at least for now, has balanced the emotional response of members of the public with the reasoned analyses of experts.
This is not to say that we can, at this point, predict how the rest of this saga will play out. As has been pointed out many times, the tenures of recent Prime Ministers have been remarkably short. Even absent that, there is a long road ahead for Japan. The new Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to establish new rules and needs to review each of the currently shut down plants before authorizing restarts. The strong public sentiment will continue to be an issue. All these signs point to continued uncertainty.
Nevertheless, the Japanese have at the very least put off making a decision that might have sent their economy into a strong downward spiral.