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Japan still needs nuclear power: Tokyo governor

12 july 2011, 10:21
Tokyo's outspoken Governor Shintaro Ishihara says Japan still needs atomic power, despite what he expects will be "some hysterical reaction" to the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis, AFP reports.

He also believes pacifist Japan should acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrent in what he considers a dangerous neighbourhood, near North Korea, China and Russia, although he stresses Japan should never use them.

The 78-year-old conservative politician, well known for his nationalistic stance and often provocative remarks, was speaking with AFP ahead of the city's formal bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, expected as early as this week.

Ishihara, who was recently re-elected governor of the megacity, said Japan would need nuclear power, despite the disaster Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is trying to contain at Fukushima, northeast of the capital.

Japan has struggled to stabilise the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out reactor cooling systems, sparking meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks into the air, soil and sea.

"As long as it's managed properly, nuclear can produce power at a very low cost," the veteran politician said. "I expect that some hysterical reaction against nuclear power plants will emerge around election time."

But he added, "Why can't Japan do the same thing as France?", which generates more than three-quarters of its power with atomic energy.

Since the crisis hit, all but 19 of Japan's 54 reactors have stayed offline, spelling a power crunch for the resource-poor Asian economic giant which used to meet about 30 percent of its electricity needs with nuclear power.

In the towering Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, most lights were turned off, with the goal of saving 25 percent of electricity -- a more ambitious target than this summer's national 15 percent cut for companies.

Ishihara has earned high approval ratings with green policies such as banning diesel vehicles in the capital, pushing climate change policies and a carbon credit trading system, and plans to green Tokyo with more trees.

Ishihara highlighted Tokyo's environmental credentials in the city's failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro -- a bid Ishihara has said he wants to revive for 2020.

After the quake, Ishihara sparked outrage by likening the calamity to divine punishment for people's greed -- but he also lashed out at power-sapping vending machines and neon-lit pachinko pin-ball parlours.

Despite his green leanings, Ishihara, a novelist-turned-politician who has led the Japanese metropolis since 1999, said renewable energy was not yet mature enough to support Japanese industry.

"Biomass is way too costly in Japan," he said. "Solar power cannot possibly support Japanese industry. Wind power is actually not so effective in Japan, where lightning often strikes and causes trouble for wind generators.

"Do you really think these things can support the world's third largest economy and industrial power?"

Ishihara touched on the possibility of Tokyo building its own natural gas power plant, possibly on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, as an alternative to another nuclear facility.

"We may be able to produce power by using natural gas, which impacts the environment less than oil, at a cost equivalent to a nuclear plant," he said.

Japan, which suffered the world's only atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, introduced nuclear power due to the country' scarce energy resources, despite strong public sentiment against nuclear weapons.

However, Ishihara reiterated his stance that "Japan should possess nuclear arms", although he stressed that "We would never be able to use them -- never".

"But just making computer simulations of developing nuclear arms would make a difference to Japan's presence in the world."

"Are there any countries like Japan in the world?," he asked.

"There is no country that is in a situation as dangerous as Japan's, which is surrounded by three countries with hostile sentiment -- Russia, China and North Korea -- right across the borders."

By Harumi Ozawa

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