Minister for the Economy, Trade and Industry Kaieda Banri broke into tears yesterday while testifying at a House of Representatives Economy, Trade and Industry Committee meeting. Not just a single tear down the cheek of sorrow but eyes flushing red, grimacing and finally hand-over-the-face-in-loss-of-control tears (video clip).
It has been a terrible few months for Kaieda. First there is the whole Fukushima Daiichi mess, which he as the minister of the ministry that oversees the nuclear power industry has kept him in the hot seat since March 11. Second, he completed the delicate negotiations with the mayor of Genkai Township and the governor of Saga Prefecture over the restart of the Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Genkai nuclear power plant, giving his personal assurance that the plant was safe, only to be blindsided by Prime Minister Kan Naoto's suggestion that all of Japan’s nuclear power plants must be submitted to "stress tests" to prove their ability to resist natural disasters. Understandably, the mayor of Genkai and the governor, flabbergasted, demanded to know, in light of the prime minister's insistence that plants undergo stress testing, what it is indeed they agree to with Kaieda, and demanded he come down to them to give his personal explanation of what the hell is going on.
Earlier, Kaieda was stunned by revelations that a division manager inside Kyushu Electric Power (Kyuden) directed the managements of affiliates of Kyuden to have their employees email and phone in pro-nuclear messages to a televised public forum on reopening of the Genkai plant. He said that the actions of the company were inconceivable. He should have been imagining a lot harder, as it was revealed this week that in officials of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the division of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry charged with ensuring the safety of Japan’s nuclear power industry, encouraged Chubu Electric Power to stock a public meeting on the much-maligned Hamaoka nuclear power plant with persons who would comment favorably about the plant.
In breaking down in front of the cameras, Kaieda pretty much guaranteed he will have very little chance in realizing his great ambition to become prime minister. Should he ever present himself as a candidate, either the TV networks or his rivals will point to his breakdown as evidence that he cannot stand the heat.
Kaieda also has demonstrated how difficult it is to be a minister under the mercurial Kan. Kan's penchant for shooting off his mouth, usually saying something that upon analysis is pretty sharp, without considering how his utterance interacts with current policy or the current political climate, is murder upon his ministers, who forever have to wonder when what they are saying today will be contradicted by Kan tomorrow.
If Kan is ever to be accused of incompetence, it will have been on his being unable to see implications of his declarations or the way they will be framed by either his opponents or the media. He is classically KY (an acronym for kuki ga yomenai – persons who are incapable of sensing the what is going on in their surroundings and because of this are pathetic). His pronouncement on the need to consider a rise in the consumption tax contributed to the size of the loss his party suffered in the 2010 House of Councillors election. His announcement of a need for stress tests for Japan's nuclear plants undercut Kaieda and put the restart of Japan's many currently offline plants on indefinite hold. His call for a non- or at least less-nuclear future for Japan blew up his own party's growth strategy, as a major target export market in the Democratic Party of Japan growth plan is the global nuclear power plant market. How convincing will the presentations by Japanese nuclear exporters be, if Japan, according to its prime minster, should be getting out of the business of nuclear power generation?
It is enough to set one to crying in frustration. However, if you are a government minister with prime ministerial ambitions, you shouldn't.
Later - Janne in Osaka goes on a tear about the latest revelations regarding the nuclear safety agency's urging power companies to stuff their public meetings with ringers.