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Shiga election a clear "no" to rushing restart

July 15, 2014

EDITORIAL: Shiga poll outcome deals heavy blow to Abe’s nuclear agenda



Voters in Shiga Prefecture gave a sharp “no” to the Abe administration’s rush to restart idled nuclear reactors.

Taizo Mikazuki, 43, who was anointed as the successor to outgoing Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada, won the prefecture’s gubernatorial election on July 13, edging out the ruling coalition-backed Takashi Koyari, a 47-year-old former industry ministry official and adviser to the Abe Cabinet, and the other contenders. Mikazuki ran on a promise to adopt Kada’s policy of breaking away from Japan's dependence on nuclear energy.

Initially, Koyari was considered a shoo-in because the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, won half of the votes cast in the prefecture for the proportional representation segment of the Upper House election last summer. The outcome of the gubernatorial election, therefore, came as a shock for the administration. What happened?

Shiga Prefecture shares a border with Fukui Prefecture, which, with 14 nuclear reactors, boasts more than any other prefecture in Japan. Municipalities in northern parts of Shiga Prefecture are located within 30 kilometers of a nuclear power plant, which means they must prepare their own contingency plans in the event of a nuclear emergency.

The Asahi Shimbun found in exit polls that 70 percent of the respondents who cited nuclear power and energy policy issues as a crucial factor in their voting decisions had cast ballots for Mikazuki. He was also helped by the Abe Cabinet’s controversial decision to formally approve Japan’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense, which came in the middle stage of the election campaign.

Shiga voters clearly raised an objection to the Abe administration’s aggressive drive to force through policy initiatives that sharply divide the nation by taking advantage of the ruling camp’s comfortable majority in both houses of the Diet.

In October, a gubernatorial election will be held in Fukushima Prefecture, which is struggling to clean up the mess left by the nuclear disaster that unfolded in 2011. Then in November, voters in Okinawa Prefecture, which is beset by the heavy burden of playing host to many U.S. military bases, will go to the polls to elect their governor.

Abe’s standing with voters will decline further if he continues ignoring the voices of local communities to push his policy agenda.

The Abe administration plans to bring idled reactors across the nation back online one after another, starting with the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture. Each of the reactors is expected to be restarted once the Nuclear Regulation Authority confirms its safety in inspections.

Residents of Shiga Prefecture, which would be certainly affected in the event of a nuclear accident, sounded the warning bell about the administration’s campaign to jump-start nuclear power generation. The outcome carries a significant meaning.

The nuclear watchdog’s confirmation of the safety of nuclear power facilities alone cannot ensure the safety of local residents living near a nuclear power plant.

How can local governments concerned develop an effective and workable plan for evacuations of residents during nuclear emergencies? What kind of system should be established to compensate local residents who have suffered damage from a nuclear accident?

Mikazuki needs to hold talks with the central government and regional electric utilities on these and many other key questions that remain unanswered.

Lake Biwako, which occupies much of Shiga Prefecture, is the primary water source for the entire Kansai region. Pollution of the nation’s largest lake would have serious consequences for the Kansai region, which includes Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.

As the governor of the prefecture with the lake, Mikazuki should work with other local governments in the region and raise the question of whether nuclear reactors really need to be restarted.

Before the Oi nuclear plant was brought back online two years ago, the Union of Kansai Governments, a group of nearly a dozen prefectural and municipal governments, rigorously questioned the safety and necessity of reactor restarts. The union pitted itself against the central government over the issues.

Threatened by the prospect of a possible summer power crunch, however, the local governments had to grudgingly accept the decision to allow Kansai Electric Power Co. to resume operations at the plant.

Since then, people in this country have become more eager to save power. This year, the nation is ready to go through a summer without a single reactor in operation, for the first time since the devastating accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.

This is clearly time for action based on serious, in-depth debate on whether the lessons from the nuclear catastrophe have been learned in a meaningful way.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 15

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