Thursday, May 17, 2012

Catching up with Toru and Yoshihiko

At little less than two weeks ago, I wrote:
The goals for the Noda Cabinet and the DPJ, if it can hold together as a party, are [snip] hope that after exerting every possible effort to restart the Oi reactors and other reactors feeding into Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO)'s grid, their efforts fail.

The last is a cynical but seemingly necessary failure of the imposition of national will over local governmental authorities. Any responsible national government, looking at the predicted shortfalls of generating power in the Kansai, would be proceeding as the Noda government has proceeded. The politicians and the citizens of the Kansai region, particularly the voters of Osaka City and their mayor, Hashimoto Toru, have perversely been those most opposed to the restart of the reactors, despite KEPCO's assertions that it faces a crushing lack of generating capacity of nearly 20% this summer.

Hashimoto and the voters of Osaka have a deep mistrust of KEPCO, extending back to last year. KEPCO's management has been far from transparent about its power capacity and rate calculations. However, this blessed land dodged a bullet last year, the summer being rather mild and the nation's tolerance for energy saving being exceptionally high. This year may be very different, and will almost certainly be most different not in the capital region or the region hardest hit by the earthquakes and tsunami but in the Kansai and Hokkaido, where the power companies were most deeply committed to nuclear power.

Should Hashimoto and other local leaders persist in hampering the restarts of reactors, and the resulting lack of power generating capacity lead to blackouts, either planned or unplanned, the Kansai's current regionalist challenge to Tokyo control will be severely damaged. Hashimoto's political ambitions may indeed be seriously set back, if the government can pin the blame for the power cuts on him, saying, "We told you so, we told you so, we told you so...and you just wouldn't listen."

Well, guess what appeared in The Japan Times yesterday?
Kansai power crunch just political rivalry?
Oi reactor factor tied to Noda's Hashimoto feud

By ERIC JOHNSTON - Staff writer - OSAKA — The confrontation between the central government and Kansai area leaders over the restart of two nuclear reactors in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, has more to do with the growing power struggle between Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda than with safety or objective attempts to determine how much electricity will be available this summer.

Since February, Kansai Electric Power Co. has revised downward its projected electricity shortages after being grilled by Hashimoto-appointed critics.

On Tuesday, Kepco said that while it currently stands by its projection of a 15 percent shortage, a combination of purchasing electricity from other suppliers, ramping up natural energy use and instituting curbs on power use might actually shrink the projected shortage to 5 percent.

Meanwhile, the governors of Kyoto and Shiga as well as Hashimoto are critical of the way Noda's administration is pushing for the Oi reactors' restart without addressing their detailed safety concerns.

They are also angry the administration and Kepco announced blackout preparations without first consulting independent outside experts who might offer different views.

The reason for these actions, Hashimoto's supporters and critics suggest, is pure politics.

"Right now, the central government says that, depending on the circumstances, it will have to cut power this summer and that if so, it will be Hashimoto's fault. But Hashimoto is not responsible for the Oi reactors. The central government and Kepco are," Tetsunari Iida, head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, said in a recent local media interview. He is also a Hashimoto adviser who serves on an Osaka city committee challenging Kepco over its projections of electricity shortages if the Oi reactors remain idled.

"Tokyo is growing increasingly worried about Hashimoto's rising popularity. Warnings of shortages from politicians and bureaucrats critical of Hashimoto have convinced many in Kansai that Noda's real aim is to do whatever he can to halt or at least slow Hashimoto's rise," said Yuji Yoshitomi, a local freelance journalist who has written critically of Hashimoto...

The funny/sad aspect of this whole KEPCO vs. Hashimoto struggle, with the Noda government playing the role of concern troll, is that Osaka City is the top shareholder in KEPCO. In theory Hashimoto and the Ishin no kai should be pressuring the KEPCO executives to at least pay attention to their ideas and answer their questions. They are failing, in part because the Osaka stake, while large (9%), is still far from controlling.

Let the game of chicken (or as we say in this blessed land, chikin gemu) roll on!


Anonymous said...

I can see the political game with the nukes but on the other front that Hashimoto has opened up of open warfare on city employees (especially those with ink) makes no sense and is getting pretty creepy. The whole thing with ink would probably make an interesting study for those interested cultural comparisons as it requires a huge amount of explanation as to why Hashimoto says Osaka will not hire Gaga as a civil employee..


MTC said...

YY -

I have an interview to be published soon where I take a look at Hashimoto and mention the tattoo question.

His attempts to curb the civil liberties and intrude into the private lives of civil servants are indeed creepy. However, the civil servants unions are fighting back, such as when they shredded his questionnaire on political activities.