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Livelihoods vs safety

Incumbent in nuclear host city re-elected as voters give priority to livelihoods



OMAEZAKI, Shizuoka -- Voters in this city, home to the controversial Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant, reluctantly helped incumbent Mayor Shigeo Ishihara win re-election in the April 15 mayoral election, saying their livelihoods will be in trouble without a nuclear power plant.

Ishihara, 64, the only candidate who did not voiced opposition to the reactivation of the plant, was re-elected to a third four-year term by collecting 12,018 votes, compared with 6,840 for former city assemblyman Katsuhisa Mizuno, 58, and 1,891 for travel agent Haruhisa Muramatsu, 60.

The election came after an expert panel under the Cabinet Office in late March predicted that a tsunami of up to 21 meters -- or far higher than an 18-meter levee under construction -- may strike this Pacific coastal city.

Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka plant, southwest of Tokyo, has been suspended since May last year on the orders of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

But a number of residents in the city with a population of about 35,000 told the Mainichi that they voted for the incumbent mayor because the regional economy will run into trouble without the Hamaoka plant.

A company employee in his 50s who cast his ballot in the city's Ikeshinden district questioned the credibility of the huge tsunami prediction and said, "I want opponents of nuclear power to know how the lives of nuclear power plant workers will be affected."

Another company employee in his 40s said that the nuclear power plant is necessary for the city, adding that Omaezaki will be in serious trouble economically without it.

But a housewife in her 30s who has two elementary school-age children, said she did not vote for Ishihara. "The local economy is important, but it will be worse if an earthquake hits, making here uninhabitable and causing health hazards."

Ishihara said after his re-election that he takes the opinions of those who voted for his rivals seriously. He pledged to do his best to bring the whole city together.

Asked about the 21-meter-tall tsunami prediction, the mayor said he will ask the central government to back up its claim with evidence. He said it is not fair for the central government to come up with such projections while construction of the levee 18 meters above sea level is under way.

He added that he has no choice but to ask plant operator Chubu Electric Power to take additional safety measures in the course of future negotiations.

The Omaezaki election was the latest in a series of local elections in which incumbent leaders in municipalities hosting nuclear power plants have prevailed over rivals without coming out against nuclear power.

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