Opinion polls show the Japanese people oppose nuclear plants going back into operation. It underlines the scale of the problem facing the government in convincing everyone that it’s safe. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo.
Before October 16, Ryuichi Yoneyama had contested four regional elections and been soundly beaten each time. Now, however, the 49-year-old qualified doctor and lawyer is to be sworn in as governor of Niigata Prefecture after defeating a candidate who had the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and was considered the firm favorite.
Yoneyama worked hard for his victory over Tamio Mori, a former bureaucrat with the construction ministry, but when the voters stepped into the voting booths there was a single issue that occupied their minds.
Mori and the LDP want to restart the world’s largest nuclear power station, the sprawling Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which lies on the prefecture’s coast. They insist that as Japan moves towards the sixth anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, triggering the second-worst nuclear crisis in history, new safety measures have been implemented that ensure the same thing could not happen in Niigata.
The voters did not agree, with 528,455 supporting Yoneyama’s pledge to not grant approval for Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant to be restarted. In comparison, 465,044 voted for Mori.
Those figures are broadly replicated across Japan, with a poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper on October 15 and 16 determining that 57 percent of the public is against the nation’s nuclear power plants being restarted, and just 29 percent supporting the resumption of reactors that have nearly all been mothballed since 2011.
Japan’s energy needs
Critics of this approach – of which the government is one – say Japanese industry needs a secure supply of energy right now and that Japan is presently importing 84 percent of its energy needs, primarily in the form of coal, gas and oil. And that is both expensive and to blame for the nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases climbing.
Still, the Japanese public is far from convinced that nuclear energy is the answer.
“It’s complicated and we keep hearing from the government how important it is to have the nuclear plants operating again, but after Fukushima, I think, a lot of people no longer trust the operators or the government,” said Kanako Hosomura, a housewife whose family home is north of Tokyo and only about 250 km from the Fukushima plant.
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