Six months after former Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked Chubu Electric Power Co. to shut down its Hamaoka nuclear power plant due to risks of a powerful quake and tsunami, the utility is still poised to restart it after reinforcing safeguards.
But local governments in the vicinity of the plant, in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, are not on the same wavelength over Chubu Electric's plan to go back online.
The mayor of Omaezaki has not opposed the restart, as 40 percent of his city's revenues come from property taxes on the nuclear plant and subsidies related to the facility.
But the city of Makinohara, part of which is located within 10 kilometers of the plant, wants it to be shut down permanently, worried that an accident there could drive away a major automotive plant.
Suzuki Motor Corp. may move part of its core plant in Makinohara due to risks posed by the Hamaoka plant, which would be a major blow to the city.
Kan asked the utility in May to halt the plant's operations since it is considered the most vulnerable nuclear facility in the country.
The plant sits in a focal zone where there is a high probability of a major Tokai earthquake occurring in the coming decades, according to a government study.
Chubu Electric placed two reactors off line at the plant in mid-May. But the utility plans to put the plant back into service after it completes an 18-meter high seawall between the sea and the plant in December 2012.
The confrontation between the two neighboring cities of Omaezaki and Makinohara flared in late September, when the Makinohara municipal assembly adopted a resolution opposing the restart.
"The Hamaoka plant should be closed permanently unless the safety of the plant is secured for the future," the resolution said.
Makinohara Mayor Shigeki Nishihara indicated that his city will call for a permanent, unconditional shutdown.
"The safety of the plant is not guaranteed," he said.
A dismayed Omaezaki Mayor Shigeo Ishihara reacted swiftly, urging discussion of the matter.
Omaezaki's municipal assembly did not mask its displeasure with the Makinohara assembly's resolution in an opinion to the central government, saying it was perplexed by the unexpected demand.
Omaezaki has spent tax and other revenues related to the nuclear plant on public facilities such as hospitals, kindergartens and libraries.
Now with no public monies flowing into city coffers following the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the municipal assembly had to pass an extra budget bill in June to cut 600 million yen ($7.7 million) in spending.
The loss of income forced the city to drop projects to repair hospitals and purchase fire engines and upgrade computers at elementary schools.
Makinohara, in comparison, derives only 1 percent of its revenues from nuclear plant-related income.
The city increasingly sees the Hamaoka plant as a potential risk because it is home to Suzuki's Sagara plant, where the automaker builds vehicle engines.
Nishihara was alarmed when Osamu Suzuki, chairman and president of Suzuki, told him after the March 11 Fukushima crisis that the automaker's plant, sitting only 11 kilometers away, could be completely idled in the event of a similar accident at Hamaoka.
In a news conference in June, Suzuki hinted at the shifting of some functions from the Sagara plant to elsewhere because of the amount of production concentrated there, based on the future risks of a temblor, tsunami and liquefaction.
The Sagara plant employs about 1,800 people, so the shift would cost the city the bulk of its tax revenues and many jobs.
The resolution against the restart came after the municipal assembly had weighed benefits from the Sagara plant against those from the Hamaoka plant.
The resolution also set off a debate on the restart among local governments in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Hiroshi Shimizu, mayor of Yaizu, home port of the ill-fated fishing vessel No. 5 Fukuryu Maru, which was exposed to radiation from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test in 1954 at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, stayed in lock step with Makinohara.
"Nuclear power is beyond the control of humans," Shimizu said. "(The Hamaoka plant) should be shut down permanently."
While the mayor of Fukuroi said that there is almost no need to restart the plant, the mayor of Fujieda even questioned whether the prefecture needed it.
Makinohara has been part of a council to formulate responses to matters related to nuclear power, along with Omaezaki, Kakegawa and Kikugawa.
But Nishihara admitted that the members had hardly discussed nuclear power.
"It was a council set up in time of peace," he said. "But we should start discussions, including pros and cons of a nuclear power plant."
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