Thursday, 1 December 2011

Power shifts as Tokyo turns to gas
November 19, 2011

In a direct act of rebellion against Tokyo Electric Power Co, which owns the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, the local government in Tokyo is moving to build a huge natural gas facility. The plant would ensure a stable supply of electricity for the capital in the aftermath of the March nuclear meltdowns. But more important, the city government says, it could spur desperately needed change, breaking the collusion between business and government.

''Now's our chance,'' said Naoki Inose, Tokyo's vice-governor, invoking an ancient proverb about attacking a wild dog only after it has fallen into a river. ''On March 11, TEPCO became the dog that fell into the river. Only then can you fight against such a formidable foe,'' he said. Advertisement: Story continues below So formidable a foe, in fact, that just eight months after Japanese leaders vowed the nuclear disaster would lead to a kind of rebirth, the chances for change are slipping away.

Already, the reformers have lost a crucial ally: Naoto Kan, who as prime minister had called for an end to nuclear power and major changes to the power industry. He was eased out of office with the help of Japan's most powerful industry lobby, a faithful TEPCO supporter that, like many members of Japan's establishment, has benefited from the company's largesse.

''After the accident, I thought there was a real chance for change, but now the move to turn Fukushima into an opportunity for radical reforms is losing steam,'' said economist and author Hiroshi Okumura. ''There's a very big risk that Japan's lost decade, which became the lost 20 years, will now become the lost 30 years.''