The Nuclear Debate Across Regions

Niigata Prefecture

Complicated Considerations #1

Towards a Clear Course of Action Concerning

the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Complex

Hope and the Loss of Bearings Amidst the Shift in Administrations

Niigata Nippo January 1, 2013

Translator’s note: Amidst all the ongoing concern about the Fukushima #1 Nuclear Complex, nuclear complex in many other parts of Japan are causing debate and divisions among communities. This article was the front page feature of Niigata Prefecture’s main daily newspaper on New Year’s Day 2013.

In the recent national parliamentary elections of December 16, 2012, there was a violent shift of the pendulum away from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) towards the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and from a policy on nuclear power of “no nukes (zero)” to “maintaining (nukes)”. However, as long as the incident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima #1 Nuclear Complex is not resolved, there will be no shift to a clearer perspective, and we will have to look hard at the complicated considerations around the localities that host nuclear power plants in this prefecture. At the conclusion of work for the year on December 28, the mayor of Kashiwazaki City, Hiroshi Aida, aged 65, made this request to the Abe administration: “In what way will we now place nuclear energy in our national energy policy? I would like to make clear our course of action.” About one week earlier, he confided that, “Although we are standing at an important fork in the road, I still cannot which course of action we are headed towards.”

All 7 reactors at the TEPCO owned Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Complex are presently idle. The issue moving forward, which includes their restart, revolves around the direct connection between the people’s safety and the regional economy, including employment and other factors. Mayor Aida has been frank about his concerns, “If you think about the state of the economy from the perspective of the leaders of the local governments hosting such plants, there is no way of getting beyond their feeling for restarting them. This is a completely expected way of thinking.” Of course, confirming safety is the highest priority. However, amidst ongoing confusion of how to proceed, we cannot consider easily carrying out discussions on this matter. This is to say nothing about national nuclear energy policy, which if not decided upon makes envisioning the future of local areas difficult. Mayor Aida was able to create 3 measures last November setting forth reliance on a non-nuclear future. However, the LDP’s stance is that the previous administration’s policy of achieving “zero nuclear energy generation by 2030” is “extremely vague”. It’s simply a contradiction to talk about ending nuclear energy while also discussing how nuclear generation is based on the premise of the sustainable recycling atomic fuel.

The question becomes, how can nuclear energy policy come under independent public administration? Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already begun to declare the approval of new provisions while clarifying a stance that would shift to the maintaining of nuclear energy. On the other hand, the Komeito Party[1], which is in coalition with the LDP, has made appeals in the Diet for the goal of no nukes as soon as possible. The invitation of the community to build the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Complex is now over 40 years past, and there has been a continual period of conflict in the region between factions for and against the complex. The results of the recent lower house elections will have repercussions for this region.

Shinya Yoshino, age 68, who runs a dental clinic in Kashiwazaki cannot hide his mistrust and is working on the reconsideration the issue. He remarks, “The LDP, which promoted nuclear energy, has not critically reflected on the Fukushima incident”, while adding that he is “anti-nuclear”. The people who oppose a restart have been gathering in Kashiwazaki for “Friday Gatherings”. At one gathering at the end of this past year, Yoshino looked back on the Fukushima incident and the recent parliamentary election, remarking, “There are gaps between public opinion and our own awareness for appealing for the end of nuclear energy.” He proposed, “Let us show the mayor how the citizens feel towards a restart from the side of the townspeople who are worried and have anxiety.”

Against this trend is Fumio Shinada, aged 39, who remarks, “I hope that with the new administration there will be the establishment of a realistic energy policy,” adding that he hopes for a restart. His grandfather established a company contracted to be in charge of safe guarding the nuclear plants. The aftermath of the Fukushima incident could not have been seen beforehand yet continues on. In December, Shinada inspected the Fukushima #1 nuclear complex, noticing that the iron door for plant had been left open. He said, “In the rear where the regional office on radiation, is there is primarily a place for the strict monitoring of radiation levels exposed to workers. Isn’t that enough?” Shinada, who knows the grounds of the complex well, was shocked by his visit, but his thinking that “Japan is a resource poor nation so atomic energy is needed” has not changed.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will by the coming summer indicate measurements for new safety standards at which point the debate on the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Complex will begin. If we look at the reality of the Fukushima incident, this debate will be an issue for the entire prefecture of Niigata. The governor of Niigata Hirohiko Izumida has taken a position of maintaining nuclear energy, even before the verification of the causes of the Fukushima incident.

The risk of nuclear power, which sends electricity to areas of mass consumption around Tokyo, is the burden of the regions that host the complexes. According to the change in administrations, nuclear energy policy will continue to drift towards a situation in which the people of this prefecture develop a sense of powerlessness. The mayor of Kariwa town Hiro Shinada, age 55, has adopted a stance of supporting nuclear power saying, “The debate over whether nuclear power is needed or not should be presented to the people of the nation. It is the role of politics to span the chasm between the local communities that host the plants and the regions that consume the electricity.”

Translated by Jonathan Watts

[1] Translator’s note: The Komeito Party was created by the massive, modern Buddhist denomination Soka Gakkai, which for years has campaigned against nuclear weapons yet was one of the last Buddhist denominations in Japan to speak out against nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster.

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