OSAKA--With opposition led by powerful Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, the city council here on March 27 rejected a referendum to put the issue of nuclear power on the ballot, turning down a petition filed by a citizens advocacy group.
Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), a regional political party led by Hashimoto, voted against the ordinance bill calling for a referendum on allowing Kansai Electric Power Co.'s nuclear power reactors back online.
Hashimoto, an advocate for the phasing out of nuclear power, has a huge support base despite heated controversy over the quality of his politics. His Osaka Ishin no Kai holds 33 seats on the 86-member Osaka City Council.
"We are taking seriously the fact that 55,000 people signed up (on the petition)," said Teruo Minobe, the secretary-general of Osaka Ishin no Kai's Osaka City Council caucus. "But Hashimoto has begun preparing a shareholder's proposal to submit to KEPCO. We are already heading in the direction of a phaseout of nuclear power. There is no need to hold the referendum at the cost of 500 million yen ($6 million)."
Between December and January, "Let's Decide Together/ Citizen-Initiated National Referendum on Nuclear Power" collected 62,439 signatures in Osaka that called for holding a referendum on nuclear power.
Osaka city's Election Administration Commission deemed that 55,428 of the signatures were valid. That exceeded 42,673, or one-50th of the number of eligible voters that was required under the Local Autonomy Law to file a petition for a referendum.
Let's Decide Together submitted the signature petitions to Hashimoto on Feb. 14, but the referendum could only be held if the Osaka City Council approved the plan.
The Osaka city government is the leading shareholder in KEPCO, a regional power utility that serves the Kansai area.
Besides Ishin no Kai, the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and Osaka Mirai (a group affiliated with the Democratic Party of Japan) also opposed the bill. The Japan Communist Party was the only political group that backed a referendum.
Hashimoto, a former Osaka Prefecture governor and an outspoken reformist, told the city council on Feb. 20 that he was opposed to holding the referendum. Hashimoto said the Osakans' will to reduce the dependence on nuclear power was evident from the fact that he was elected mayor in November. He added there was no need to hold an expensive referendum just to ask their opinions on the single issue of restarting nuclear reactors.
Let's Decide Together also collected signatures between December and March calling for a similar referendum in Tokyo and has said that the number of signatures exceeded the requirement for filing a petition.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, three referendums were held in the past in regards to nuclear power, but all were held in municipalities that either hosted a nuclear plant or were considering hosting one.
Let's Decide Together's latest movements are unique because they were staged in urban areas, which are the major users of the power supply. The advocacy group said that the citizens should make their own decisions on the issue of nuclear power generation instead of leaving it up to the central government and power utilities to decide.
The Osaka city government is currently drafting a proposal, including a call for the earliest possible abolition of all nuclear power reactors, to submit to KEPCO's general shareholders' meeting.
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