I was filled with a sense of accomplishment after a full and lively debate with Mr. Masayoshi Son on the night of August 5. This head-to-head debate ran for 3 hours and 25 minutes without any breaks, yet still seemed to have ended all too soon. I decided to write this column to summarize the events that led to the debate and how I’m feeling following the debate, because the session evoked a massive response.

Mr. Son and I agreed to the debate on Twitter. In his tweet on July 1, Mr. Son said, “I wonder what people who turn to nuclear power plants from their desire to seek short-term profits are thinking about.” The tweet caused me to offer the following counterargument on Twitter.

“Mr. Son, there are things you can say and things you should never say. Many engineers are pursuing their research solely for the future of Japan. It’s rude to label people devoting themselves to the stabilization of power supply as people who are just seeking short-term profits.”

Mr. Son responded to this tweet, throwing me the following questions. “Mr. Yoshito Hori, are you a nuclear power advocate? Would you like to have a debate with me on this?” I wrote him back on Twitter, saying, “Mr. Son, I’d be happy to accept your offer for a discussion. I’m an ‘advocate of stable power supply.’” And so the plan for our debate was made. The GLOBIS’ Annual ASKA Meeting was underway when Mr. Son and I agreed to the debate.

After the debate was planned, I visited Fukushima Prefecture on two occasions to feel the land and the air of Fukushima first-hand and to meet as many locals as possible. I met radiation advisors in Fukushima, Kaname Tajima, the head of the emergency operations center for the nuclear disaster, the chief of Iidate Village, the mayor of Minami Soma City, refugees from Iidate Village, and local municipal and prefectural assembly members. I met local leaders at the KIBOW Fukushima Meeting, which GLOBIS had organized for a dialogue. I visited temporary housing where evacuees from Iidate Village were living. I did those things because I had to understand what was distressing and worrying people in Fukushima.

I’m not an energy expert. I didn’t know that much about nuclear power plants. I had little idea about the effects of radiation on human health. That’s why I visited nuclear power facilities and energy policy specialists, and spoke with people in the power industry and with experts on radiation. I took myself to mega solar power plants, too, in an attempt to understand what was new to me

The debate was planned as an event open to all, including the media. If I were to make incorrect statements, I would be subject to severe criticism and bashing from media and from the people. In particular, uncompromising antinuclear activists would be there to attack me with amazing force. To counter them, I myself had to go out in the field, to speak with experts, and to understand the reality from the ground up.

In the meantime, I analyzed videos of Mr. Son presenting in the past. Mr. Son is articulate and a person with great narrative skills able to make an appeal on an emotional level. He would be a tough opponent.

I chose to clarify my personal goals through the debate. I aimed to achieve the following three objectives: (1) increase the number of people who accept nuclear power plants; (2) provide an opportunity to think about energy policies; and (3) convert Mr. Son from the denuclearization movement and tell him not to lead public opinion and politics in the wrong direction. I decided to state these objectives at the beginning of my presentation in the debate.

Achieving objective (3) would be the best outcome. But, honestly, I thought changing Mr. Son’s thinking might be difficult. Based on this assessment, I focused on changing the awareness of the audience. This debate would be a great success for me if I could achieve these goals while keeping the audience interested, and at the end, if I could leave the debate with a handshake with Mr. Son. I set my goals in that way.

The discussion format was another point I was concerned about. The videos of Mr. Son’s previous dialogues showed him sitting on a sofa and engaging in talks that left it unclear whether they were in discussions or mere conversations. In his moderated talks, the moderators had sometimes led discussions into an unfair direction or caused key points to be lost by injecting their personal opinions and asserting their presence. There were also cases where Mr. Son spent a long time repeating the same points.

For those reasons, I insisted on: (1) appointing no moderator; (2) distributing time fairly; and (3) having discussions in front of a live audience following the presentations.

But there were other things that worried me. Setting no time limit could cause our discussion to go round and round in circles without getting anywhere. Whether the points of contention would be discussed sufficiently or not was another question. We could also lose the audience by talking far too long. A debate fails when it becomes dull. I needed to be heard. Recognizing this, I chose to assume the role of moderator and lead the discussion, in addition to taking part in the debate. To do those things, I prepared both points of assertion and questions before going into the discussion.

I had lunch with my father the day before the debate. When I asked him for a suggestion, my father said, “Your mother wants you to do it in a dignified way.” As his own advice, my father told me to “Accept your opponent’s opinions if they are correct.” He believed that debating calmly without becoming emotional was the best strategy I could adopt for dialogues like this one.

Finally, the day of the debate arrived. I went to the venue, met Mr. Son in front of the anteroom just before the session got underway at 8 p.m., and shook hands with him. It was our first meeting in about three years. I have met Mr. Son on about ten occasions in the past, the first time was about 18 years ago, just after I launched GLOBIS. We served on the same panel discussion in 1994. We had met twice for one-on-one discussions as well. In my view, Mr. Son is one of the most gifted entrepreneurs in Japan (and even in the world).

Our debate began. After shaking hands with Mr. Son and expressing my thanks for his agreement to have this open debate, I kicked off my 20-minute presentation. At the beginning, I declared, “I’ll keep telling you what I believe is right, however severely I may be criticized.” After my presentation, Mr. Son delivered his 10-minute counterargument, followed by his 20-minute presentation. Then, I argued back at him for 10 minutes.

Our debate—on which no time limit was imposed—then got underway when my allotted time for a counterargument was over. We exchanged hard blows right from the start, trying to rob each other’s time to speak. It was a very tough debate. After a while, I began to feel that Mr. Son was more reasonable than I had expected as we exchanged heated words again and again.

Mr. Son came to the session with an attitude of accepting nuclear power plants, instead of an unyielding stand against the plants. He took a more flexible approach to radiation than before, too. Reversing his previous stance that radiation leakage at the level of 1 mSv was dangerous, Mr. Son said leaks of up to 20 mSv were permissible. He accepted what he didn’t know, and said, “Let’s study it,” when numerical values could be wrong. There were differences between us, including how to look at the risk levels of nuclear power, damage caused by rumors, the “base load” concept of power generation, and some of the figures adopted. But I began to notice many points on which Mr. Son and I agreed.

In the meantime, I said everything I wanted to say to Mr.Son. In response to the view that “Japan will be OK with power saving efforts,” I said, “We are already paying enormous compensation and costs for saving power. Look at how difficult the situation is for manufacturers.” To the opinion in support of “increasing combined-cycle power plants,” I pointed out, “LNG imports can’t be readily increased. Japan is already importing one-third of global LNG consumption. LNG ships are already a bottleneck. Producers would take advantage of the demand and raise the LNG price if Japan were to denuclearize. To begin with, how do you pay the cost of power plant construction? CO2 emissions will rise by LNG, if we stop nuclear power plants.”

In the absence of a moderator, I made sure whether or not we covered every point of issue, raising the interest of the audience, and whether or not we focused excessively on one issue, going round and round on certain topics. In other words, I focused on finding points of agreement and points of difference while playing the role of moderator. I tried to perform these self-appointed tasks in a way that was calm and dignified.

I noticed Mr. Son had started to repeat some of his arguments. I looked over my memos, and confirmed that our debate had covered all points of issue. I told Mr. Son “three hours and 18 minutes have passed already” at that point, playing my side role as the moderator. Passing an eye over his memos, Mr. Son began to sum up this discussion from his point of view. I followed him with a summary of my own. At the end of the session, we stood up, walked to each other on the platform, shook hands, put our arms around each other’s shoulders to praise our performance, and thanked the audience for joining us. The debate had ended.

In a passage behind the stage, I shook Mr. Son’s hand and thanked him. Mr. Son left the venue from there, surrounded by bodyguards. I stayed to thank GLOBIS staff members and say goodbye to the people who attended the session. Their reactions were very positive. Feeling good, I went for a drink with GLOBIS staff members to celebrate the success and thank them for their services that night. It was a pleasant evening.

Discovering that Mr. Son had tweeted about our debate while we were having our celebratory drink, I wrote him back as follows:

“To Mr. Son: Thank you, too. I believe our debate promoted public understanding. Thank you for proposing it. Let’s expand the circle of this debate to scholars and politicians next. RT@masason Thank you very much, Mr. Hori. I believe we had a good discussion tonight.”

The debate had no winner or loser. From the beginning, I had thought this discussion would be a great success, if it increased the number of people who accept nuclear power plants, and created an opportunity for Japanese to think about energy policies in a coolheaded way. Through the debate, I found more points in common with Mr. Son than I had expected. Mr. Son also admitted the needs for Nuclear Energy. Yet there were still people on Twitter who dwelled on who won and who lost. To my great astonishment, even one of the newspaper used words such as “overwhelmed.”

To correct this misguided view, I made the following comment on Twitter.

“If we must determine winners and losers from the debate at all, they are as follows. Antinuclear hard-liners are the ‘losers.’ They lost because people who accept nuclear power plants, including Mr. Son, grew in number as a result of the discussion. Japanese citizens are the ‘winners.’ They won because many people will start speaking up with courage as a result of greater public interest in discussions over energy policies and a groundswell of sentiment in favor of actions that will make Japan a better place.”

That’s right. ‘Japanese citizens’ won. I’m convinced that more debates like this could definitely change Japan for the better, bringing diverse viewpoints to the attention of more people and enabling them to discuss matters openly while acknowledging points of agreement and differences.

Antinuclear hard-liners uncompromisingly attack anyone who makes valid arguments. As a result, public opinion has swung completely to denuclearization. A real discussion is impossible in this situation. If this debate represented a first step towards changing this tone and public sentiment, then I can say that Japanese citizens won. I consider myself equivalent to the stone in the game of go that is sacrificed for greater gains. (But I would note that sometimes this sacrifice stone survives unexpectedly, and goes on to develop a vital position.)

My summer vacation began yesterday. I’m going to play hard in the nature up in the mountain, take part in some sport, and enjoy playing the game of go with my children. I’m also planning to complete the English-language editions of my two books, “My Personal Mission Statement” and “Dear Visionary Leaders Who Create and Innovate Societies.” I wish you a nice summer break, too.

August 7, 2011
Yoshito Hori
Written at a mountain lodge