The Tokyo metropolitan assembly dashed the hopes of 320,000 Tokyoites by rejecting their petition for a referendum on the future of nuclear power plants.
Assembly members voted 2-1 on June 20 to reject a draft ordinance calling for the referendum, which had been forced onto the agenda by the signature petition from the Tokyo public.
The decision, which had been widely expected, is a second major blow for anti-nuclear campaigners following the rejection of a similar petition in March by the Osaka city assembly.
“I feel frustrated and empty,” said Saori Kano, 45, a homemaker from Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward who helped collect signatures in the Tokyo drive. “My goal is to change the nuclear power policies that have been left to the central government to decide.”
Kano said she tried to lobby assembly members in the run-up to the vote but ran into a brick wall.
“Some of the assembly members refused to even meet me,” she said. “The ordinance was rejected too easily.”
Members of Minnade Kimeyo Genpatsu Kokumin-Tohyo (Let’s decide together with a national referendum on nuclear power), the citizens group backing the referendum, made their case at the metropolitan assembly’s general affairs committee on June 14. But, with the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and Tokyo’s controversial Governor Shintaro Ishihara all steadfastly opposed to the idea, the group failed to come near to forcing it through.
Hajime Imai, the head of its secretariat, said: “We wanted the metropolitan assembly members to discuss the issue seriously, irrespective of which (political) group they belonged to. (But) we feel the result (of the vote) had been decided beforehand.”
In the June 20 vote, 82 assembly members voted against the referendum ordinance. LDP and New Komeito members were joined by a significant group of Democratic Party of Japan representatives.
Forty-one members voted for the ordinance, including members of the DPJ, the Japanese Communist Party and those of Seikatsusha Network—Mirai (Ordinary citizens’ network—future).
In the assembly debate, the LDP maintained a line, shared by Ishihara, that the decision on whether to operate nuclear power plants was a central government issue.
New Komeito representatives argued that a simple choice between allowing or not allowing utilities to operate nuclear power plants was problematic. They said it would not reflect the wide range of complex opinions held by Tokyo residents.
The DPJ, the largest group in the assembly, argued that Tokyo citizens should be given an opportunity to show their opinions, but failed to agree on a party line for the referendum. The vote was left to each assembly member’s conscience.
Of the DPJ’s 49 members, not including the president of the metropolitan assembly, 19 voted against the ordinance.
On the other side of the debate, the JCP argued that it was dangerous to leave all decisions on nuclear policy to the central government, which has already decided to restart nuclear reactors. The Seikatsusha Network—Mirai stressed the need to listen to those residents of the capital who had backed the petition.
Ishihara invited controversy during the meeting by making a thumbs-down gesture at a public gallery full of members of the citizens group pushing for the referendum.
After the plenary session, Ishihara said: “I did that because I don't think there is any justification for the ordinance. Whether to operate nuclear power plants should be decided by the central government.”
Despite the setbacks in Osaka and Tokyo, moves to force referendums on the nuclear issue are spreading across Japan, particularly in prefectures hosting plants.
In Niigata Prefecture, a citizens group, Minnade Kimeru Kai (Group to decide together) wants a referendum on whether reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant should be restarted.
The group plans to collect about 40,000 signatures necessary to petition the local government in the two months from June 23.
“We want to give citizens of this prefecture the opportunity to express their opinions,” said a member of the group.
In Shizuoka Prefecture, a citizens group called Genpatsu Kenmin Tohyo Shizuoka (A vote on nuclear power by Shizuoka people) is collecting signatures for a referendum on whether to restart reactors at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant operated by Chubu Electric Power Co.
About 62,000 signatures are necessary to force the referendum onto the table and, as of June 20, about 38,000 signatures had been collected.
“The rejection by the Tokyo metropolitan assembly is regrettable, but the circumstances of Tokyo, which consumes a lot of electricity, and Shizuoka, which hosts a nuclear power plant, are different. We want to continue our effort,” said Nozomu Suzuki, a former mayor of Iwata in Shizuoka Prefecture who is now serving as the head of the citizens group.
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