New nuclear plant splits residents of straitened town

October 06, 2012

By JUNKO WATANABE/ Staff Writer

KAMINOSEKI, Yamaguchi Prefecture--Plans to build a nuclear plant in this rural town have divided local opinion, with some residents welcoming the promise of jobs and investment in a moribund local economy and others saying nuclear is just not worth the risk.

In fact, opposition to the proposed plant in Kaminoseki dates from long before Japan's 2011 nuclear disaster. Protesters were first gathering here more than 30 years ago, and although many are now old, they still mount weekly protest rallies.

For now, construction is on hold. On Oct. 5, the governor of Yamaguchi, Shigetaro Yamamoto, rejected developer Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s request to extend a license to reclaim land in the coastal town.

But that is not the final word on the project as far as one local construction company is concerned. Its manager, in his 60's, cites the chance of a return to power of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who opposes a nuclear phase-out.

"We should be very patient," the man said. "You will never know what will happen if a change of government takes places and Abe becomes prime minister again."

The construction-company manager hired several engineers back when he expected construction to get fully under way.

Then, in March 2011, the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant took place and work to reclaim land ground to a halt.

Still, despite what he calls the "high costs" of doing so, the man keeps the engineers on the payroll because he thinks the work may resume.

The project already dominates the local economy. Kaminoseki, a town of fewer than 3,500 people, has 20 builders and contractors.

Chugoku Electric, a regional utility based in Hiroshima, is trying to win over local residents in various ways. It picked up the tab for the repair of a coastal road in the town on behalf of the town hall. The work cost tens of millions of yen.

"We are doing this because local residents have cooperated with us a great deal in our plan to build the plant," said an official at the utility’s office in charge of the project.

When the Fukushima disaster hit and land-reclamation halted, a group of local traders and manufacturers called on Chugoku Electric to provide other jobs until the work resumed.

"We would be grateful even for minor work," said Tsutomu Asami, 78, a senior group representative.

Meanwhile, the governor’s decision was no comfort even to the anti-nuclear demonstrators.

"We won't be reassured until Chugoku Electric announces the cancellation of the project," said Toshiyasu Shimizu, 57, the representative of a group calling itself the "Iwaishima people's project prevention society."

For three decades now, the group has staged a weekly protest rally on Iwaishima, a nearby island that faces the plant site. On Oct. 1, the group gathered for the 1,145th time.

But another factor threatens the group.

Women who initially led the demonstrations are now in their 60s to 80s.

"The company must be thinking that it will build the project after we die," said participant Tamiko Takebayashi, 69.

Over the past three decades, Kaminoseki’s population has halved. People aged 65 or older now account for 49.56 percent of residents.

One resident blamed the central government for not taking a clear-cut stance toward nuclear power.

"I am disturbed by the politicians’ irresolute attitude," the resident said, musing that there are other ways to spur the town economy. "If this project went away, people would come up with a new idea instead. But before long, nobody will be left in the town.”

By JUNKO WATANABE/ Staff Writer
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Residents from Iwaishima island, near the planned Kaminoseki nuclear plant, protest outside Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s headquarters in Hiroshima. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Residents from Iwaishima island, near the planned Kaminoseki nuclear plant, protest outside Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s headquarters in Hiroshima. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Residents from Iwaishima island, near the planned Kaminoseki nuclear plant, protest outside Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s headquarters in Hiroshima. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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