Recent revelations in the Japanese press suggest that TEPCO and other Japanese nuclear energy firms contribute heavily to the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. The power companies may have bedfellows in the governing Democratic Party of Japan as well.
TOKYO - The crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant is far from being resolved. As a result of the ongoing problems, polls suggest some 70% of the Japanese people now favor ending the country's reliance on nuclear power. And yet so far, Japan's major political parties seem reluctant to side with popular opinion on the nuclear issue.
On July 14, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pronounced himself in favor of "building a society able to live without nuclear power." Admitting that it is impossible to guarantee the safety of nuclear power plants, Mr. Kan proposed a law aimed at developing sustainable energy sources.
His propositions attracted violent criticism, even from members of his own party, the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which forced him to declare that his statements about the end of nuclear power were based solely on "personal thinking."
His decreasing popularity partly explains why he has struggled to impose an open debate on the matter. But another explanation might lie in the close financial ties that exist between Japan's electricity power companies and the political world. As the Kyodo new agency revealed last month, this privileged relationship sometimes pushes the boundaries of legality.
Clearing up "misunderstandings'
In an article published July 23, Kyodo claimed that of the nearly $850,000 the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LPD) received in private donations in 2009, 72.5% came from executives of the nine companies owning nuclear plants. Roughly 30% of those donations came from a single source: the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Japan's largest atomic power utility, TEPCO operates the failed Fukushima nuclear plant.
In response to the revelations, LPD's general secretary, Nobuteru Ishihara, called on members of his party "to clear up the misunderstandings that lead people to think that we attach little importance to the public and a lot to electricity companies." The LPD led the Japanese government almost continuously between 1955 and 2009.
According to Kyodo, the governing DPJ may not have benefited from these types of donations. That's not to say the power companies didn't help elect individual members of the party.
As the weekly newspaper Aera explained, politicians from every political formation have benefited over the years from discreet support by electricity companies, which are believed to use subcontractors in some cases to keep their contributions anonymous. Japanese law also allows contributors to remain anonymous if their donations are less than $2,500.
Elected members of the PDJ may also have received contributions from pro-nuclear organizations such as the Federation of Electric Power Related Industry Worker's Unions of Japan (DENRYOKU SOREN), of which TEPCO's own union is a member. DENRYOKU SOREN is one of the most powerful wings of the RENGO, the Japanese Federation of Unions, which supports the PDJ and its elected members.
Read the original story in French
Photo - Guillaume Paumier