Photo/IllutrationHiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and Hitachi Ltd. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The chairman of Japan's most powerful business lobby and top executive of a leading nuclear power plant maker signaled reluctance about a national debate over nuclear energy, reversing his previous stance.

"It's pointless to have a debate with people who emotionally oppose nuclear energy,” said Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), at a news conference on March 11. “I don't have the power to persuade people who say they are absolutely against it.”

Nakanishi also serves as chairman of Hitachi Ltd., a key player in Japan’s nuclear industry.

His comment came when reporters pointed out that the public’s perception of nuclear energy has changed since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

However, Nakanishi defended Hitachi’s push toward a restart of nuclear power plants in Japan, citing potential problems in the spread of renewable energy.

“It would be nice to be able to enhance Japan’s industrial competitiveness with renewable energy alone,” he said. “But what do we do if the technological development of renewable energy doesn't go well? It is my duty as leader to make options available.”

Nakanishi also said Japan would not be able to move forward without securing various energy sources.

“This is a fact, no matter how many years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” he said.

March 11 marked the eighth anniversary of the onset of the nuclear disaster, which was triggered by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Nakanishi, for some time, had underlined the need for a national debate over the nation’s long-term energy policy, including nuclear energy. Hitachi had planned to build a nuclear plant in Britain under the Abe administration’s policy of boosting the Japanese economy through nuclear power plant exports.

However, the company announced its decision to shelve the plan in January, as other Japanese companies had refused to invest in the project after constructing a nuclear reactor became extremely expensive following the Fukushima accident.

As a result, Hitachi turned its focus toward the domestic market, with Nakanishi saying the same month that the company would push for restarts of Japanese reactors.