Local political situation around Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station (KKNPS)

English Summary of article by Yabe Tadao (Co-Director of the network for 3 local citizen groups against the KKNPS)

It has been nine years since all reactors at the KKNPS were shut down. Of the 7 Units, Nos. 2, 3 and 4 have been shut since the Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake 13 years ago. Seven years ago (September 2013) Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to receive safety approval for Units 6 and 7. Two years ago, the NRA granted this approval, confirming that Units 6 and 7 comply with the new safety standards.

Position of the Niigata Prefecture Governor

Hanazumi Hideyo was elected governor in April 2018. The previous governor had to suddenly quit because of a scandal, making this a cutthroat election, and the candidate informally backed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)- Komeito coalition made advances. However, Hanazumi won by a margin of 3,700 votes with the following policies regarding the nuclear plant issue:

  • The three independent investigations being conducted by the Prefecture would continue with their structure unchanged.
  • The results of these investigations should be completed in 3-4 years and as leader, I will make a decision based on these results.
  • This decision must also be approved by the people of the Prefecture. There is a chance I may lose my job in the next election in four years or even before that if the investigations conclude before my term is up.
  • There can be no debate on restarting the nuclear reactors before these investigations are completed, which means that the nuclear reactors will not operate during my term.
  • In the future I want to realize a society that is not dependent on nuclear power.

Up until now the Governor has kept these promises (we think!) It is now less than 2 years until the next election so we hope that there will be a no-nukes candidate standing and, as people of Niigata Prefecture, we have to keep an eye on the present governor to make sure that he doesn’t suddenly change his policies. At the same time, we must build up resistance to restarts as well as making strong calls for decommissioning amongst the people of Niigata.

Situation regarding the Kashiwazaki City Mayor

The mayor of Kashiwazaki City, Sakurai Masahiro is in favor of restarting Units 6 and 7 of KKNPS. He has made the following comments: “We have no choice but to cooperate with energy supply in the foreseeable future. Stopping nuclear power generation threatens not only the Japanese economy but also the lives of Japanese citizens” and “I know it is ironic, but we have no choice but to recognize the continuation of nuclear power and the restarting of reactors.”

However, Mayor Sakurai’s plans have not been proceeding well. In February 2019 he had to abandon his own review of evacuation routes because of the danger of avalanches from fallen snow in the mountains. After requesting that TEPCO submit plans for the decommissioning of Units 1-5, and even making this a condition of restarting Units 6 and 7, TEPCO brushed this off by saying “first let’s restart and then we will consider possible decommissioning.” And last year, in order to speed up the shipment of spent fuel, which is an urgent problem as 81% of storage capacity on the KKNPS site is now full, the mayor requested that TEPCO pay a progressive tax on the spent fuel (the longer it has been stored the higher the tax), but TEPCO and Kashiwazaki City ended up agreeing that the tax would be enforced the year after it becomes possible to actually ship the fuel out. Its supposed destination is the Mutsu interim storage facility in Aomori Prefecture, which has not even received operating approval from the NRA yet. The Mutsu municipal legislature has also passed an ordinance which will levy a tax on spent fuel that is shipped to the facility. In any case, this tax is very high and it has not been approved by Recyclable-Fuel Storage Company (80% owned by TEPCO, 20% JAPC). Mayor Sakurai’s proposed tax was supposed to be another condition of restarting Units 6 and 7, but it seems TEPCO has him wrapped around their little finger and this tax seems hardly likely to ever be implemented.

Recently Kashiwazaki City conducted a questionnaire to find out what the city residents thought of energy policies. Of the 3,000 sent out, there were 1,243 valid responses. Regarding the question “What do you think should happen to the KKNPS in the future?” 6.1 % of respondents answered that it was necessary to restart all units; 29.2% answered that limited restarts were necessary although they should be kept to a minimum as far as possible; 39.4% answered that they should be gradually phased out and decommissioned in the future; 19.2% answered that all units should be decommissioned as soon as possible; 6.0% responded ‘don’t know’ or did not fill in an answer. The mayor commented that “74.7% (total of the first 3 responses) are not opposed to restarts so I think my appeal for accepting the restart of Units 6 and 7 is at least partially understood by the community.” Many people are angry and disgusted by this arbitrary interpretation.

Kashiwazaki City election

There will be a mayoral election in November. Voices within the pro-nuclear camp (the Chamber of Commerce, etc.) are expressing strong dissatisfaction with the present mayor’s self-righteous attitude and his management of the city, so they may put up another candidate. The anti-nuclear camp is also in the process of deciding on a candidate, but it has been slowed down by COVID-19.

At last, a variety of different opinion polls are showing that over 60% of people in Kashiwazaki are opposed to nuclear power, which is twice the number of people in favor. Unfortunately this doesn’t translate to votes in elections and we only seem to be able to get one third of the votes. In the most recent election last April, for the Niigata Prefectural Assembly, Ikeda Chikako gained the most votes, beating the LDP/Komeito endorsed candidate. She has not exactly been on the frontlines of the anti-nuke movement, but she did support the present Niigata Governor in his election the previous year. There were three candidates in this election, but she got 47% of the vote. This shows that, depending on the candidate, the people of Kashiwazaki are prepared to vote no-nukes, in other words, it is becoming possible for the opinions expressed in various polls to be actually reflected in elections.

Personally, I think we don’t need to choose a candidate for the upcoming mayoral election who screams loudly against restarts and pushes decommissioning, as long as he or she is not in favor of nuclear power. In any case, we have to put up a candidate. There is not much time, so a lot of effort needs to be made. This is the mayoral election immediately before the prefectural governor election in two years, which will decide whether KKNPS is restarted or not. We really must win it.

Residents of Kashiwazaki as well as the whole of Niigata Prefecture must rally together and prevent the restarting of KKNPS and pave the way for decommissioning so we can make the nuclear phase-out a reality. We’re almost there.


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