Japan media critical of PM's nuclear-free vision

TOKYO, July 14, 2011 (AFP) - Several major Japanese newspapers on Thursday criticised Prime Minister Naoto Kan for outlining his vision of a nuclear-free future for the quake-prone island nation.

AFP - Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks at a press conference at his office in Tokyo on July 13, 2011. Kan said Japan must gradually reduce its reliance on atomic power.

While conservative dailies slammed the plan as irresponsible, even papers that share the goal criticised Kan for speaking vaguely and without sufficient debate, at a time when his days in power are numbered.

In the face of the hostile reaction, Kan's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, stressed that Kan's words should be understood as "a hope for the distant future", not official government policy.

Kan in a speech Wednesday, over four months after the March 11 quake-tsunami sparked the Fukushima nuclear disaster, said Japan should gradually phase out atomic power, with the eventual goal of a nuclear-free nation.

The embattled centre-left premier has also promoted a boost for clean alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, and has reportedly made the passage of a bill on renewables a condition of his resignation.

The mass-circulating conservative Yomiuri Shimbun said Kan had simply been populist and "flying the banner" of a growing anti-nuclear movement at a time when there is a risk of serious power shortages.

The Nikkei business daily lashed out at Kan for making "irresponsible" remarks at a time when the resource-poor country faces the risk of a serious power crunch, as all but 19 of its 54 reactors are shut down.

The Nikkei said Kan "spoke about a major shift in (energy) policy without substantial discussions between the ruling and opposition parties."

"When considering how grave the impact would be on people's lives, the prime minister's remarks were irresponsible," said the paper.

It added that Kan "is not in a position to set the direction of a significant national policy over the next 20, 30 years".

Kan, in power for just over a year, is under intense pressure to step down, both from the conservative opposition and members of his own party, who accuse him of having bungled the response to the March 11 catastrophe.

The liberal Asahi Shimbun, which has itself proposed a nuclear power phase-out in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster, said in its editorial: "We welcome the policy of the prime minister and support it."

"This is a major shift in the nation's nuclear energy policy, in which the government has promoted atomic power but now plans to reduce it gradually," said the Asahi, one of the country's mass-circulation dailies.

The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, another liberal publication, said: "We basically support the prime minister's way of thinking."

But it added: "He is a prime minister who will resign in the near future. We demand that he seeks to quickly build consent between the government and the ruling coalition."

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