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The impact of closing Tsugara

May 17, 2013  not online


EDITORIAL: Tsuruga should be model for breaking free of nuclear energy




Keeping things as they are became practically impossible now that an expert panel has concluded that an active fault line runs directly under the No. 2 reactor of the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The panel is under the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, which was formed from a lesson of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“What else can we say, but it is fortunate that no accident has occurred until now,” a panel member said.

If the active fault moves and leads to a major accident, residents of Tsuruga city will be the first who will have to escape. Lake Biwako, which supplies water to the Kansai region, is only 40 kilometers away. Natural disasters strike without warning.

However, Tsuruga Mayor Kazuharu Kawase is opposing the panel’s conclusion, saying it is not final. Some proponents of nuclear power generation in the local community say that if they can buy some time, the administration of Shinzo Abe, which supports restarting idled nuclear reactors, will come to the rescue.

The central government has been providing subsidies to local governments that host nuclear power plants. Some people disparagingly say Tsuruga is putting up resistance for money.

Let’s stop and think. To aim at realizing a society that does not rely on nuclear energy, we need to squarely address serious impacts that the decommissioning of nuclear reactors may have on local communities that host them.

Tsuruga was once a thriving port city. But as the center of the economy shifted to Pacific coastal areas, it accepted four nuclear reactors to serve as the main pillar of the local economy.

However, the Fugen prototype advanced thermal reactor is in the process of decommissioning. After the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, prospects for restarting the aging No. 1 reactor at the Tsuruga plant remain dim.

There are also no prospects for restarting the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor after revelations of neglect in carrying out safety inspections. If the Tsuruga No. 2 reactor is also decommissioned, it is likely that Tsuruga will have no workable nuclear reactor for the first time in 43 years.

The local economy that takes for granted the presence of nuclear power plants will be shaken from its foundation. In particular, the impact on employment will be great. Of the approximately 68,000 people who live in Tsuruga, about 5,000 work at nuclear power plants and related facilities. Another 5,000 are also engaged in work such as the hotel industry, which is inseparable from nuclear power plants. When their families are included, tens of thousands of people rely on nuclear power plants to earn a living.

The impact on municipal finance is also serious. In exchange for hosting nuclear power plants, Tsuruga received a total of 50 billion yen ($489 million) in government subsidies. Including such revenues as fixed property taxes on nuclear plants, one-fifth of the city’s budget is made up of nuclear industry-related income. The government subsidies are also used to cover part of the medical costs of citizens and labor costs of fire department employees.

While opposing the decision on the one hand, Tsuruga Mayor Kawase said, “Since it will take 30 to 40 years to decommission a nuclear reactor, a special company is needed for the process.”

“One option is to disseminate technology to secure nuclear safety to the world,” he also said. If such a shift materializes, Tsuruga can be the model of a community that broke with nuclear power generation.

A local government that accepted the national policy of promoting nuclear energy is trying to sever its ties with nuclear power plants. How should the national government and power consumption centers such as the Kansai region support such attempts?

With so many nuclear power facilities, Tsuruga has been dubbed the “Ginza of nuclear power plants.” It is time we come up with the wisdom and various means of support to help Tsuruga cast off the nickname.

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