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Move to switch Japan’s nuclear reactors back on divides communities via Australian Broadcasting Corporation

SABRA LANE, PRESENTER: Four years on from one of the world’s nuclear disasters, the meltdown at Fukushima, Japan is on the verge of a historic move to switch its mothballed nuclear reactors back on. The move is deeply controversial, as 120,000 Japanese have still not been able to return to their homes and there are serious doubts the site can ever be contaminated. The issue will be front and centre when Japan goes to the polls this weekend, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems assured of winning a third term in power. North Asia correspondent Matthew Carney travelled to remote southern Japan where the first nuclear reactor will be flicked back on and he found communities deeply divided.

MATTHEW CARNEY, REPORTER: In one of the holiest sites in southern Japan, the monks are sending out a warning to the world. Nearby, the Sendai nuclear reactors are about to be turned back on. The industry was shut down after the Fukushima disaster.

HIROAKI MURAI, BUDDHIST MONK, CHINKOKU TEMPLE (voiceover translation): If a second accident happens, it will be a catastrophe. Most areas of Japan will become unliveable. Restart of the reactors is unthinkable.[…]
MATTHEW CARNEY: But the town that hosts the nuclear plant, Satsumasendai, is greatly relieved it will be up and running again. It’s totally dependent on the $20 million a year it gets in subsidies and taxes from the plant’s operators, Kyushu Electric Company. Without it, the local economy has been crippled.

KENICHI KAMIMURA, SENDAI CHAMBER OF COMMERCE (voiceover translation): The money is immeasurable, and when it disappeared, restaurants, local stores, construction companies, stopped. So did the jobs. The restart might stop young people leaving town.

MATTHEW CARNEY: There are eight other communities surrounding the plant which get much less financial benefits. They’re opposed to the restart and are angry that they’ve had no part in the decision-making process.

Kazuya Tanaka represents the 30,000 people of Ichikikushikino. He says some residents are only five kilometres from the reactors and will suffer the full force of any potential meltdown.

KAZUYA TANAKA, ASSEMBLY MEMBER, ICHIKIKUSHIKINO CITY (voiceover translation): The people’s voices are not being listened to. The local politicians are only listening to the Prime Minister and the nuclear companies, but we could lose everything, our beautiful scenery, our beautiful environment.

MATTHEW CARNEY: There are two active volcanoes within 50 kilometres from the Sendai nuclear plants. What is deeply alarming for many residents is that there is no effective evacuation plans if a disaster happens. The most vulnerable, the elderly and the sick may not be saved. This facility cares for 70, but they only have one vehicle to transport the bed-ridden.

IKURO FURUZONO, CARE SUPPORT WORKER (voiceover translation): The biggest worry is whether we can safely carry the people who can’t walk, people in wheelchairs and the bed-ridden. We haven’t done any drills. It’s going to be very hard.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Fukushima evacuation showed that a national co-ordinated response was needed. Many of the elderly or sick died waiting for transportation, yet no such plan exists for Sendai and there are 200 facilities like this in the area.

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