Fukushima and the Crisis of Democracy: Interview with Murakami Tatsuya via The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

Katsuya Hirano

Murakami Tatsuya is the former mayor of Tōkaimura or Tōkai village located approximately 75 miles north of Tokyo and 111 miles south of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Tōkaimura is considered the birthplace of nuclear power in Japan since the Japanese government built the first reactor for commercial use there in 1965 in collaboration with British nuclear scientists. As Mr. Murakami reveals below, the Japanese government at the time informed the residents of Tōkaimura only of the building of a nuclear research institute, not a power plant. As time passed, Tōkaimura became heavily dependent on the nuclear industry for its revenue and people’s livelihood. On September 30, 1999, the village had a nuclear criticality accident at the JCO nuclear reprocessing plant. It killed two people, left one person in critical condition, and exposed 667 people to radiation. They were the first victims of a nuclear accident in Japan. Mr. Murakami dealt with the emergency situation as mayor and subsequently became a vocal opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policy. Since the Fukushima Daiichi Plant accident of 2011, he has been a leading figure in the anti-nuclear movement involving 24 village and town mayors, which calls for the abolition of all 54 reactors in Japan. The interview took place at his Tōkai residence in the summer and winter of 2014.

HIRANO: […] Tōkaimura’s population is currently 38,000 and its annual budget is 16.6 billion yen. The revenue generated by the nuclear power plant-related business is over 5.5 billion yen, which is roughly one third of total revenue. Considering the plant’s importance in the village economy, some critics say, it is unthinkable for you to have proclaimed an anti-nuclear position and led the anti-nuclear movement as mayor. Could you explain why you made that decision?

MURAKAMI: You correctly note that about one-third of the village’s revenue and operating expense is from nuclear facilities. Actually the budget funds are a bit more than 16.6 billion yen now, 18 billion in total. This year’s budget includes 4.5 billion yen of a financial savings fund that is budgeted for construction of an elementary and junior high school. This amount is added to the budget. So out of 18 billion yen, 5.5 billion yen would be revenue from nuclear-related industries.

We have two thermal power plants here, one of which started operating in 2013. Each plant generates 2.5 billion yen, so a total of 5 billion yen is expected from the thermal power plants. If we don’t include it, it will leave us with about 16 to 17 billion yen in budget. I can certainly say we rely heavily on the nuclear money.

If you look at other local governments with a size and population about the same as the village of Tōkaimura, their average budget is around 12 billion yen. You might wonder if these local governments struggle to provide adequate services to their people. The reality, however, is that there is not much of a difference in terms of the quality of life. In other words, Tōkaimura receives an excessive budget because of the plant. We really don’t need that much. If you have too much money, you tend to do evil. (Laughs.)

Another example of a local municipality hosting nuclear power plants is Genkai-Chō 玄海町 in Saga Prefecture where about seven thousand people reside. Their budget is 7 billion yen while other local governments with a comparable population receive 3 billion yen in budget. You wonder how 7 billion yen enriches people’s lives there, but the reality is that the town has to come up with something unnecessary for the community just to use up the budget, such as building a heated indoor swimming pool, tourist facilities or an impressive gymnasium and cultural center. These facilities were built for a town of seven thousand residents. It means that they are wasting the money. I guess it is “too much of a good thing.”


HIRANO: Do you mean that a mayor might be getting large “donations” from the industry during the election?

MURAKAMI: Hmmm, I don’t think that is the case here in Tōkaimura. I don’t believe that is the case with Ōarai-machi either, because in Ōarai most city council members are associated with the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute (JAERI) and Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) anyway. I don’t think political donations are the issue. I would say their influence is not from money but the way they approach local government. They are very polite and humble. You know, these top elite scientists with a PhD are graduates from prestigious schools like Tokyo University, but they never act arrogantly. If these respectful, elite gentlemen come to see you and ask for a favor, I can see how it could be sometimes hard to say no to them.

When I was still mayor in Tōkaimura, I received a request from the Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) to build unit 3 and 4 reactors, but I was not enthusiastic about building additional reactors. At the time of the Tōkaimura nuclear accident in 1999, the plan to build J-PARC (Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex) had already been finalized and the construction had begun, so after the accident I decided that we should end the dependency on nuclear money as a way for community building and development, and that we should focus more on becoming a research-oriented community.

That’s how the concept of “Tōkai Science Town” was born. This was something we had been discussing even before the Fukushima Disaster. Since the completion of J-PARC, I have spoken about this on various occasions as “the dawn of a new era for Tōkaimura.” Of course, we will lose a host of subsidies, property and income tax revenues.

Some might think that all we need is to invite facilities or industries that bring a lot of financial resources to our community. Such logic seems to me too simple. I wanted to free us from dependency on so-called easy money.


MURAKAMI: You are right. I also see that if we keep depending on Abenomics, local towns and cities will decline rapidly.

HIRANO: So you mean that sort of Neo-liberalism?

MURAKAMI: Neo-liberalism, that’s right. I thought about this at the time of the Koizumi administration (2001-2006). This is how Prime Minister Koizumi thinks. Why are you living in such a remote mountain or on an isolated island? It costs too much to support you, so move out from there. I will give you three or four hundred thousand dollars so that you can live in a city. It’s cheaper. If you stay in such remote areas, we have to fly a helicopter to get you to a hospital when you get sick. It costs the government too much money. (Laughs.) That’s what I call Neo-liberalism.

HIRANO: They cut off everything local.

MURAKAMI: Cut off, cut off. That exactly happened with the merger of cities and villages. It was the Great Heisei Mergers.8

HIRANO: Koizumi planned to establish small cities in local areas through consolidation and eradicate “useless” rural communities to achieve maximum economic efficiency.


MURAKAMI: It is said that nuclear energy policies were implemented as a national policy, but it is not clear who actually decided this. It is true that the government has been in charge of its promotion, but I have to wonder how much the opinions and feelings of residents or local governments that house nuclear reactors have been taken into consideration under the name of national policy.

Then I looked the word up in a dictionary, and found that the term “national policy” is associated with colonialism. According to the Kōjien dictionary, the colonial powers created national policy in order to control and promote the development of colonies. I indeed thought it explained well the true nature of national policy. The term is self-explanatory; in other words, it is a policy adopted by the government.

There are many policies that fit under that category, but only few are given the title of “national policy”. I believe nuclear energy policy alone is referred to as a national policy nowadays. Mass media still often uses the term without hesitation, but it is only during wartime when the term “national policy” is clearly applied. For example, Basic National Policy Guidelines9 and Imperial National Policy Guidelines10 during the Asia-Pacific war – they are all associated with war.

HIRANO: That’s right. National policies implies mobilization of the whole country; that is the premise.

MURAKAMI: Exactly. In that sense, national policies mean that people are forced to make sacrifices for their country. In other words, it is for a greater cause and that’s why it is a virtue to dedicate one’s life to their country. The term “national policies” implies this, doesn’t it? Even though it is an era of decentralization of power, some people in local areas regard nuclear energy as a national policy and dismiss their opponents as people who are against national policies. We still have people like that in Tōkaimura nowadays.

Even some of the local government chief officers, especially ones hosting nuclear power plants, say they are hesitant about speaking out against or even making decisions on nuclear power themselves, because they are national policies. It seems to me all they are doing is avoiding their responsibility. Saying that it is something the government decides, they keep silent about whether or not nuclear plants should be reactivated. The central government also tries to silence local governments in the name of national policy. This is how national policy works.


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