24 Octobre 2018
October 18, 2018
Nuclear plant closure brings hope, despair to Fukushima town
NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture--Naraha’s anti-nuclear wish has been granted, and now this population-depleted town faces a future without its main source of revenue and major supplier of jobs.
In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Naraha decided to oppose nuclear energy and call for the closure of the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant that it co-hosts on the coast of the prefecture.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. in June finally said it plans to decommission the No. 2 plant.
Although anti-nuclear activists cheered the decision, not everyone in Naraha was happy.
Since the 1970s, the town has been home to the No. 2 plant, which first went into service in 1982.
For decades, Naraha has received central government grants and subsidies for hosting the No. 2 plant, as well as tax revenues from TEPCO and its affiliates operating in the town.
The plant also employed 860 people, many of them from Naraha and its surrounding communities.
Naraha had a population of about 8,000 before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the triple meltdown at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011. The crippled plant is located within 20 kilometers from Nahara.
The quake and tsunami also created a scare at the No. 2 plant by leaving the facility with only a limited power supply from external sources and emergency diesel generators to cool the reactors. But the plant brought the situation under control.
After long remaining silent about the fate of the No. 2 plant, TEPCO decided to retire all of its four reactors, which were approaching their legal operating limit of 40 years.
If the power company wanted to continue operations at the plant, it would have to spend hundreds of billions of yen on upgrades to meet the more stringent safety standards that were set after the accident at the No. 1 plant.
A town assembly session in September was dominated by questions about Naraha’s financial status.
“How much in local tax did TEPCO and its affiliates pay the town last fiscal year?” an assembly member asked.
“About 52 percent of the town’s overall revenues of 1.93 billion yen ($17 million),” replied a town official.
“And how much in nuclear energy-related grants from the central government was given to the town?” the assembly member continued.
“About 1.1 billion yen,” another official answered.
Naraha will lose its eligibility to receive the grants once TEPCO’s plan to decommission the No. 2 plant becomes official.
The assembly member kept pressing the town government for specific plans to secure new revenue sources.
Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto took the rostrum and said, “We will request a new grant from the central government.”
Matsumoto was referring to a “special grant” that the central government established after the Fukushima meltdowns to mitigate the financial impact on Okuma and Futaba, the two towns co-hosting the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and nearby municipalities.
The new grants, which started in fiscal 2015, are intended to supplement their revenues.
A total of about 250 billion yen will be used for the special grants over 30 years.
Under this setup, 8.3 billion yen was paid to the Fukushima prefectural government in fiscal 2016, of which 2.1 billion yen went to Okuma and about 1 billion yen to Futaba in subsidies.
Part of the remainder was used to build training facilities for five sports, including canoeing and clay shooting, in the prefecture, and to renovate greenhouses at an agricultural high school in Aizubange, a town about 120 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The nuclear disaster at the No. 1 plant forced residents to evacuate Naraha.
The evacuation order was lifted in September 2015, but only around half of the town’s residents have returned permanently.
Many Naraha evacuees have started new lives in other municipalities. And the town’s infrastructure, such as supermarkets and medical institutions, has still not been fully restored to pre-disaster levels.
In Tomioka, the other co-host of the No. 2 plant, less than 10 percent of residents have returned since the entry ban was lifted in spring last year for most of the town.
Although Naraha and Tomioka officials share concerns about their municipalities’ financial futures, they see a silver lining in the situation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Both towns have served as front-line bases for workers involved in decommissioning of the stricken plant.
About 5,000 workers a day who are involved in the decommissioning effort provide steady business for convenience stores and other shops in the two towns.
Business hotels, dorms and apartment buildings have been built in the towns and neighboring communities to accommodate the workers.
Work to dismantle the No. 1 plant is expected to take decades to complete.
Local officials said the closure of the No. 2 plant could bring about a similar economic boon.
“Decommissioning can become a major industry,” Naraha Mayor Matsumoto said.