ONAGAWA, Miyagi Prefecture–As an opponent of atomic energy, I have watched this town for more than four decades–from before Tohoku Electric Power Co. began constructing the Onagawa nuclear power plant here.
It is my hope that our town can stand on its own without the massive subsidies associated with the installation of nuclear reactors and fixed asset taxes paid by the power utility. It’s not about asking if we can revert to that state of things. I believe we have to do it now.
I live in temporary housing because my home was swept away by the tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
I was elected to the town assembly eight months after the March 2011 disaster, which claimed the lives of some of my fellow activists. In the hope of conveying their anti-nuclear message to younger generations, I ran in the assembly election as an independent candidate.
Around 1970, when the Onagawa plant had yet to be built, local fishermen banded together to express opposition to the nuclear facility. Thousands took part in a protest rally held near the seashore. About 10 buses, each with 50 seats, arrived from a neighboring town to join it.
But Tohoku Electric began approaching nuclear opponents and secured agreement to engage in small talk from some people. They included, for example, owners of large fishing vessels that operated far from coastal waters. They had large crew and held senior positions in the local fishermen’s union.
There is no significant opposition movement in Onagawa now.
I studied at a university in Tokyo after I graduated from senior high school. I took an interest in the issue of Minamata disease (caused by mercury pollution) and joined a sit-in outside the head office of Chisso Corp., the chemical company responsible for the pollution. I thought the economy was being put ahead of humans–the same picture that applies to atomic power generation.
After I graduated in 1975 and returned home, I found my community polarized between nuclear opponents and proponents. I was told that residents living along the same seashore had been so estranged that they no longer even spoke to each other when they attended funerals of people in the other camp.
The opposition movement gradually cooled its heels after the fishermen’s union decided to accept financial compensation, and after construction of the No. 1 reactor of the Onagawa nuclear plant began in 1979.
Some people had relatives working for the nuclear plant, while others supplied food to the plant workers.
They could no longer openly state they were opposed, even if they felt differently in their hearts.
Tohoku Electric has been boasting that the Onagawa nuclear plant “withstood the quake and tsunami.” I have also been told that a gymnasium on the grounds of the plant served as an evacuation shelter for more than 300 residents for three months. Some inhabitants are thankful for that.
But I later learned that the plant grounds lay only 80 centimeters above the towering tsunami, which measured 13 meters in height, and only one of the five external power supply systems survived without damage. Perhaps it was a matter of sheer chance that a serious accident was avoided.