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Can't afford to be against nukes

June 24, 2014

Pro-nuclear deputy mayor wins Rokkasho mayoral race




ROKKASHO, Aomori -- The pro-nuclear deputy mayor won the mayoral election in this village on June 22, in a sweeping victory over opponents advocating against the nuclear fuel cycle program in the area.

The mayoral election was the first to be called in the village since the outbreak of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Fukushima Prefecture in March 2011.

Mamoru Toda, 67, won the mayoral race after garnering 95 percent of the vote -- or 5,144 votes -- with the backing of former Mayor Kenji Furukawa and all 18 members of the village assembly. Toda beat three other candidates who are opposed to the area's nuclear fuel cycle program, with the latter three gaining a mere 270 votes altogether. The voter turnout was 62.94 percent.

Behind the election results lies the fact that the nuclear fuel cycle program brings in massive amounts of subsidies and employment to the village. "If you are against the nuclear fuel cycle program, you won't make a living here," said one villager.

"The reason for my victory is that I advocated for coexistence, co-prosperity and promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle program, which won villagers' sympathy," Toda told reporters on the evening of June 22.

The Rokkasho Municipal Government and the Aomori Prefectural Government accepted to host the nuclear fuel cycle program in 1985. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. began trial operations at a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in 2004, but there are no prospects for the plant to be fully operational anytime soon. Up until fiscal 2011, the village had received some 42.3 billion yen in grants under the three power source development laws, after such subsidies fully started in fiscal 1988.

In the 1990s, a mayor called for freezing the nuclear fuel cycle program but the project went ahead regardless. Ryoichi Kimura, professor emeritus at Aomori Chuo Gakuin University, who was involved in the compilation of the village history of Rokkasho, said, "All these twists and turns have left only a handful of opponents (to the nuclear fuel cycle program)." In fact, the number of votes cast for candidates against the nuclear fuel cycle program stood at somewhere between 77 and 374 in the past five elections.

In a survey by the Mainichi Shimbun on June 22, which covered 100 voters at polling stations, 94 of them had voted for Toda. However, only 41 of them said they think the nuclear fuel cycle program is "safe."

A farmer who worked for Toda's camp confessed, "I'm actually opposed (to the nuclear fuel cycle program). It brings nothing good for us. But if we remain against it, we won't be able to make ends meet."

Keiko Kikukawa, 65, who ran in the mayoral race calling for a village without a nuclear fuel cycle program, pointed out the realities faced by the village. "Young people here either leave this village or work in nuclear power-related businesses."

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. and its subsidiaries hire a total of some 5,600 employees in Aomori Prefecture. Many of them are believed to live in Rokkasho, exerting an overwhelming presence in the village that has less than 9,000 eligible voters.

June 24, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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