Anti-nuclear campaigners in Japan have launched the country’s first green party, more than a year after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi power plant created a groundswell of opposition to atomic energy.
Greens Japan, created by local politicians and activists, hopes to satisfy the legal requirements to become an officially recognised political party in time for the general election, which must be held by next summer but could come much earlier.
The party said it would offer voters a viable alternative to the two main parties, both of which have retained their support for nuclear power, particularly after the recent decision to restart two nuclear reactors in western Japan.
The ruling Democratic party of Japan and the minority opposition Liberal democratic party [LDP] both supported the nuclear restart, which came after Japan was briefly left without nuclear power for the first time in more than 40 years.
Akira Miyabe, Greens Japan’s deputy leader, said voters had been deprived of the chance to support a party that puts nuclear abolition and other green policies at the top of its agenda. “We need a party that puts the environment first,” he said at a launch event in Tokyo.
The 1,000-member party is still a gathering of disparate groups and local politicians, but believes it can emulate green parties in Germany and other parts of Europe and influence the national debate over energy policy.
Nao Suguro, a co-leader of the party who sits on a local assembly in Tokyo, said the aim was “to create a broad network to accommodate calls for the abolition of nuclear power plants.”
The party will struggle to field any candidates if, as some predict, the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, calls a snap lower house election. But it said it was prepared to put up about 10 candidates in next summer’s upper house elections.
Recent demonstrations in Tokyo suggest Japan’s anti-nuclear movement has broken free of its long association with socialist and pacifist movements to include younger campaigners, many of whom are protesting for the first time.
The protests are among the biggest Japan has seen in decades, although they have not succeeded in forcing Noda to reconsider his support for the restart of several reactors to avoid power cuts and lessen Japan’s dependence on expensive fossil fuel imports.
While thousands of demonstrators held a candlelit vigil and formed a chain around the parliament building in Tokyo on Sunday night, voters in Yamaguchi prefecture in south-west Japan elected a pro-nuclear governor in a poll that some saw as a litmus test of Japan’s enthusiasm for atomic energy.
Shigetaro Yamamoto, a former bureaucrat who was supported by the conservative LDP, defeated three rivals, including Tetsunari Iida, who had campaigned against the proposed construction of a nuclear power plant in the area. That vote came after other recent wins for pro-nuclear candidates in local elections.
The government is currently sounding out public opinion on three options for nuclear energy’s share of the country’s energy mix in 2030: zero, 15% or 20-25%. Japan depended on nuclear power for about a third of its energy needs before the 11 March disaster.