06/11/2012, 00.00
JAPAN
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Consumer confidence is up despite energy crunch

For the first time in two months, confidence in the economy is up. PM warns however that without nuclear reactors, jobs will be lost and capital shift offshore. Public opinion and religious leaders disagree.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Consumer Confidence Index was up by 0.7 per cent in May over April, when it first dropped since the tsunami disaster on 11 March 2011.  The government today reported that the index rose to 40.7 per cent from 40. In April, it had lost 0.3 per cent over March. A rate below 50 per cent indicates recession; above it, it means expansion.

Despite the relatively good performance, Japan is in one of the worst economic situations in its history. Japanese authorities must try to boost industrial production without nuclear power, with one of largest public debts in the world as well as a succession of weak governments.

For this reason, Noda appealed to the public for support. "In order to protect the lives of our people, the Oi reactors number 3 and 4 [in Oi] should be restarted," Mr. Noda said on Friday.  "We have appropriate countermeasures in place," he added.

The coming summer is spurring the prime minister into action because of potential power shortages that could have great repercussions.

In May, the country's last reactor (out of 50 in operation before the Fukushima disaster) was shut down for routine maintenance (every 13 months). For the first time in 40 years, no reactor is in operation.

 "Cheap and stable electricity is vital," Noda warned. "If all the reactors that previously provided 30 per cent of Japan's electricity supply are halted, or kept idle, Japanese society cannot survive."

One danger is that many companies could shift output offshore with consequent jobs loss.

The prime minister is now expected to make the final decision. He will wait for the governor of Fukui Prefecture to give his approval. The two reactors in question are under his jurisdiction.

Japanese public opinion remains opposed to nuclear power even though they are aware of the problems ahead.

Religious leaders have also expressed their opposition to a return to nuclear power.

Two Protestant clergymen, Rev Hiroki Nonaka and Rev Koichi Kimura, recently released a book titled Nuclear plants and Christianity. In it, they attack the government's reliance on atomic energy, which in their view is contrary to the Holy Scriptures.

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