By Martin Fackler
IKATA, Japan — To power his plans for Japan’s economic revival, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could soon return his nation to nuclear power for the first time since the Fukushima accident three years ago. But before he can, he will need the consent of the remote towns like this one that host Japan’s idled nuclear plants.
All signs are that he will get it. In Japan’s political world, local consent means getting the approval of the host communities’ mayors, many of whom say they have suffered from loss of plant-related tax revenue and jobs that lifted living standards in their once-impoverished rural towns and villages. Ikata’s mayor says local businesses are clamoring for a restart of their local plant, the Ikata Nuclear Power Station, built in 1977 on a narrow peninsula facing Japan’s Inland Sea.
“The lack of a national consensus on nuclear power shifts the burden of decision to these local communities,” said Motohisa Furukawa, a former minister in charge of economic and energy strategy. “Towns will feel bound to serve the national interest.
Ikata, on the western edge of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, is already feeling the pressure in a different form, the enormous financial losses caused by the idling of its plant.
Town officials say Ikata’s overall annual tax revenue has plummeted by a third, or about $35 million, since the last of the plant’s three reactors went offline two years ago. The biggest reason, officials said, is the disappearance of revenue from a tax that host communities are allowed to place on all new nuclear fuel brought into the plants. Those shipments have stopped since the reactors have been turned off.
Since then, the mayor, Mr. Yamashita, has called for reducing Ikata’s dependence on the plant by attracting more tourists to pick oranges, or fish in the Inland Sea. However, he also admits that it is impossible to replace the plant as the basis of the town’s economic well-being.
“We know the plant has risk, but so does riding in an airplane or a car,” Mr. Yamashita said. “We want the national government to convince us that they are taking every measure to reduce that risk as much as possible.”
“I think there is a deep layer of opposition to the nuclear plant, but those with money are using fear-mongering about damage to the economy to suppress it,” said one of the lawsuit’s leaders, Hideto Matsuura, 68, a retired manager at a machinery manufacturer who lives in a nearby city.
The plant’s operator, the Shikoku Electric Power Company, has tried to allay these fears by spending $840 million on a four-year plan to bring the plant in line with tougher new safety standards. This has included assembling a small fleet of trucks carrying backup generators and water pumps on high ground, out of reach of large tsunamis like the one that ruined power and water-cooling systems at the Fukushima plant.