Long removed from his hometown, Sakae Ishida recalled how opposition to a planned nuclear power plant quickly faded in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.
Ishida, 64, who had repeatedly petitioned the Fukushima prefectural government to retract the Namie-Odaka plant construction plan, ended up selling a 0.4-hectare plot of land and rice paddies at the site to Tohoku Electric Power Co. for about 20 million yen ($212,000) two decades ago.
The change in attitude came after Namie leaders and residents saw the rising fortunes of nearby towns that hosted a nuclear power plant.
That facility, however, was the now-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Today, Namie is deserted, its dreams of prosperity dashed. All 21,000 residents of the town remain evacuated because of the nuclear accident that started in 2011.
"I think it's only natural (that the plant construction plan was aborted) because we've had that horrible disaster," said Ishida, who now lives in Minami-Soma.
Tohoku Electric announced March 28 that it has abandoned plans to build the Namie-Odaka nuclear plant. The site--about 10 kilometers north of the Fukushima No. 1 plant--would straddle the municipalities of Namie and Minami-Soma and contain a reactor with an output of 825 megawatts.
Tohoku Electric President Makoto Kaiwa stated the obvious when explaining why the project was scrapped.
"There was a special factor with the planned Namie-Odaka nuclear plant: proximity to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant," he told reporters on March 28 at the utility’s headquarters in Sendai. "That fueled opposition in the hosting communities."
Namie hosts 95 percent of the 1.5 square km landmass of the planned plant site. Tohoku Electric has acquired 1.25 square km of that figure.
But it was mainly the fierce local opposition to the plant project that led Tohoku Electric officials to conclude it would be difficult to press ahead with the plan.
It wasn’t always this way.
Namie in 1967 adopted a resolution to host the Namie-Odaka plant, a year before the project was announced.
"Initially, most of the residents who owned land on the planned plant site opposed the project," said Ishida, from the Tanashio district of Namie.
Opinions changed after Tokyo Electric Power Co. started operations at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in 1971. Workers remained in the host towns of Futaba and Okuma, government subsidies poured in, and brand-new buildings popped up.
"Opponents almost disappeared because we saw, under our nose, how those towns prospered," said Ishida, who sold his land to Tohoku Electric 20 years ago.
But in March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, spawning a giant tsunami that knocked out power to the Fukushima No. 1 plant and caused meltdowns at three reactors.
In December 2011, the Namie town assembly scrapped its 1967 resolution and espoused a departure from nuclear energy in its rebuilding blueprint. Minami-Soma also adopted a resolution seeking the cancellation of the nuclear plant project.
"The plight of the nuclear disaster is engraved deep in our townspeople's minds," Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba told Nobuaki Abe, an executive vice president with Tohoku Electric. "I highly appreciate your decision to end the plan."
With the scrapping of the Namie-Odaka project, 11 new nuclear reactors remain under planning across Japan. Construction has started on three of them: Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s Shimane nuclear plant No. 3 reactor in Shimane Prefecture, Electric Power Development Co.'s Oma nuclear plant in Aomori Prefecture, and TEPCO’s Higashidori nuclear plant No. 1 reactor in Aomori Prefecture.
The previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan approved the continued construction of those three reactors, but it planned to oppose the building plans for the others.
After the Liberal Democratic Party ousted the DPJ from power in December, the new administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scrapped the DPJ policy in a bid to build new reactors.
Tohoku Electric’s decision to drop the Namie-Odaka nuclear plant plan is the first since the nuclear disaster. But the company has not given up on its plan to construct a new No. 2 reactor at its Higashidori nuclear plant, which lies adjacent to a plant of the same name being built by TEPCO.
However, calls for a departure from nuclear energy remain.
Although Japan has 50 nuclear reactors, only two of them--both at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture--are currently running.
A senior utility official said he has "virtually given up on hopes" of seeing the restarts of aged nuclear reactors, in service for more than 40 years, and of reactors at plant sites over suspected active geological fault lines.
Public opinion is the major factor working against the restarts.
"In view of opposition among the residents of hosting communities and the general public, I don't believe (the idled reactors) can all be brought back online," the utility official said. "We'd be lucky to have half of them restarted."
(This article was written by Shinichi Fujiwara, Miho Tanaka, Junko Watanabe and Kentaro Uechi.)
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