In an effort likely to just be a symbolic one, a citizens group submitted petitions containing 323,076 signatures to the Tokyo metropolitan government on May 10 calling for a referendum on nuclear power plants serving the region.
But without the blessing of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and the metropolitan assembly, who oppose a public vote, the months-long campaign appears futile.
The group, Minna de Kimeyo Genpatsu Kokumin Tohyo (Let everyone participate in a referendum on making decisions about nuclear power), handed in about 120 boxes containing signatures of residents asking that the issue be placed on the ballot.
Hajime Imai, who heads the secretariat at the citizens group, said in a news conference that the group is hoping to win the support of many assembly members.
“We want to discuss the issue with assembly members with our passion that enabled us to collect 320,000 signatures,” he said.
To make a direct petition, signatures from more than one-50th of the eligible voters, or 210,000 in the jurisdiction of the Tokyo metropolitan government, are needed under the local autonomy law.
The proposed ordinance by the group calls for a vote to decide the fate of nuclear power plants owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co.--the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants in Fukushima Prefecture and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture--by Tokyo residents age 16 or older, including foreigners with permanent residency.
It also urges the Tokyo governor and the metropolitan assembly to reflect the results of the referendum in policy measures.
In line with the law, Ishihara is expected to give his opinion on the draft ordinance when he submits it for debate at the metropolitan assembly’s session in June.
But the governor has already made clear his opposition to such an ordinance.
He said the anti-nuclear movement does not go beyond the realm of an emotional one as long as the group does not provide alternatives to nuclear power.
Major groups in the assembly have also signaled their reluctance about holding a referendum.
The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the parties backing Ishihara, are expected to reject the proposal.
“We need to listen to the opinion of the prefectures hosting nuclear power plants and watch how the power supply and demand will turn out this summer,” said a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest group at the assembly.
But another member said that it is difficult to ignore the voices of a mass of voters before the metropolitan assembly election in 2013.
The citizens group waged a similar campaign in Osaka, filing a petition in February.
But the Osaka municipal assembly voted down the proposal in March.
The group on May 13 is set to launch a similar drive in Shizuoka Prefecture, home to the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, which sits in the hypocentral region where a huge earthquake is forecast.
In Niigata Prefecture, a different group plans to start an effort to call a referendum on TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant this summer.
Japan is home to 50 commercial reactors, which are all currently offline for routine maintenance and safety inspections. TEPCO has 13 of those reactors.
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