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Niigata governor election shows anxiety about nuclear power

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The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture

In an upset, Ryuichi Yoneyama, a rookie candidate backed by the opposition Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, was elected governor of Niigata Prefecture on Oct. 16.

Yoneyama presented a tough stance toward the proposed restart of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the prefecture, which was the main election issue.

He emerged victorious in a virtual one-on-one contest against Tamio Mori, a former mayor of Nagaoka in the prefecture, who was backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito.

The outcome could be called a manifestation of the public will that wants to halt the headlong way the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to have Japan’s idled nuclear reactors brought back online.

The election highlighted the strong anxiety that Niigata Prefecture residents have concerning nuclear power.

Yoneyama said in his campaign pledge that he would not discuss the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant unless the causes of the 2011 disaster at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, its impact and the challenges it highlighted are scrutinized.

He has the responsibility to follow through on his promise and confront the central government and TEPCO, which are seeking to have the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa’s nuclear reactors brought back online, with a resolute attitude.

Hirohiko Izumida, the incumbent governor who has consistently taken a cautious stance toward a nuclear restart, did not seek re-election.

Attention was focused during the gubernatorial race on whether Izumida’s policy line would be succeeded. It was initially thought that Mori, a former head of the Japan Association of City Mayors who emphasized the connections he has with the central government, had an overwhelming advantage.

But Yoneyama, who announced his candidacy immediately before official campaigning started and asserted he would follow Izumida’s stance over the nuclear restart issue, turned out to have more pull.

An Asahi Shimbun survey of eligible voters in Niigata Prefecture found that, while only about 20 percent of the respondents said they approved the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, more than 60 percent opposed it. Yoneyama was elected by that public opinion.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, where seven nuclear reactors are concentrated, is one of the world’s largest nuclear plants. A serious cover-up of technical problems there came to light in 2002. The Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake of 2007 resulted in a fire and the leakage of a small amount of radioactive substances there. It stands to reason that many feel anxious about plant operations.

Izumida told the central government that plans for evacuating local residents in the event of a nuclear plant disaster are not covered by the screenings by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and called for the central government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Guideline to be improved. He also used an expert panel of the prefectural government to pursue an independent investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The governor also questioned TEPCO’s delay in announcing that core meltdowns had occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. That led to TEPCO’s acknowledgment this year of a cover-up.

One can say that Izumida has demonstrated that a prefectural governor can play various roles without leaving the safety of a nuclear plant up to the central government. The election results have shown that many residents of Niigata Prefecture want their governor to continue that stance.

The Abe administration, which defines nuclear energy as an important mainstay power source, is hoping to restart nuclear reactors that have passed NRA screenings. It also defines the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant as an indispensable step for rehabilitating the embattled TEPCO, which has virtually become a government-owned entity.

The administration, however, should sincerely face up to the public will in Niigata Prefecture.

In Kagoshima Prefecture as well, the winner in a gubernatorial election this summer was a candidate who called for a nuclear plant in the southern prefecture to be taken temporarily offline.

It is the duty of top officials responsible for national politics to listen to the voices of the public.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201610180023.html

October 19, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Gov’t, TEPCO should take Niigata gubernatorial election results seriously

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A candidate who is cautious about restarting idled nuclear power plants won the Oct. 16 Niigata gubernatorial election, defeating a rival backed by the ruling coalition. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) should take seriously the outcome of the election, in which the pros and cons of reactivating the utility’s atomic power station in the prefecture was a key point of contention.

Ryuichi Yoneyama, 49, supported by the opposition Japanese Communist Party, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party, beat former Nagaoka Mayor Tamio Mori, 67, backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito.

Mori had been expected to score an easy victory as the approval rating of the Abe Cabinet has been high and both the ruling coalition parties enjoy support from the business community and related organizations. Therefore, the results highlight prefectural residents’ deep-rooted distrust in TEPCO, the operator of the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

The governing bloc’s loss in the Niigata election follows its defeat in the July Kagoshima gubernatorial race, in which journalist Satoshi Mitazono, who called on Kyushu Electric Power Co. to stop operations at its Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in the prefecture during his campaigning, scored a victory.

The outcome of the Niigata race also apparently shows local residents’ displeasure toward Mori, who failed to clarify his stance toward whether the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in the prefecture should be restarted, as well as their criticism of the Abe administration that is proactively trying to reactivate atomic power plants.

Close attention was focused on the latest election because incumbent Hirohiko Izumida abandoned seeking a fourth four-year term as governor.

The reason why Izumida gave up on running in the race remains unclear. However, Izumida has continued to demand TEPCO clarify the cause of the Fukushima nuclear crisis as a precondition for sitting at the negotiation table to discuss whether the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant should be reactivated. As such, TEPCO and the Abe government had expected that the retirement of Izumida would help facilitate the resumption of operations at nuclear plants.

As the election campaign went on, however, Yoneyama, who declared that he would take over Izumida’s policy line, garnered growing support from local voters. Alarmed by the situation, LDP heavyweights, including Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, delivered campaign speeches and urged the local business community and industry organizations to vote for Mori.

Numerous voters in Niigata, who saw the LDP’s desperate efforts to persuade local voters to vote for Mori, probably felt the old-fashioned culture of the LDP. During his campaigning, Mori emphasized his experience of serving as president of the Japan Association of City Mayors to demonstrate his close relations with the national government. However, he gave local voters the impression that he was hesitant to clarify his position on reactivation of atomic power plants.

Many challenges have been left unaddressed by Izumida, such as whether the evacuation plan for local residents in case of an accident at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is appropriate. Yoneyama must address these challenges as he pledged during his campaigning.

The manner in which the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) approached the election was poor. The DP did not officially support Yoneyama although the party had initially planned to field him in the next House of Representatives election because the TEPCO union has strong influence within the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), which is a major supporting organization for the party. However, DP leader Renho did an about-face and delivered campaign speeches for Yoneyama in the final phase of the campaign apparently after being convinced that he would win.

The DP cannot win support from voters unless the party discusses its nuclear power policy and clarifies its stance on the issue.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20161017/p2a/00m/0na/009000c

October 18, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-nuclear Candidate wins Japan Regional Election, Blow to Nuclear Restarts

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Nuclear foe Ryuichi Yoneyama wins Niigata gubernatorial poll, threatening Tepco reactor restart hopes

NIIGATA – An anti-nuclear candidate won Niigata’s gubernatorial election Sunday, dealing a potential blow to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s attempts to restart the world’s biggest atomic power station.

Ryuichi Yoneyama, 49, a doctor-lawyer who has never held office and was backed mostly by left-wing parties, won the race for governor, an election dominated by concerns over the future of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station and nuclear safety more than five years after the Fukushima catastrophe of March 2011.

Final results show Yoneyama beat former Nagaoka Mayor Tamio Mori, 67, who was backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party.

Yoneyama gathered more than 528,000 votes, about 60,000 more than Mori. Voter turnout was 53.05 percent, up significantly from the 43.95 percent in the previous gubernatorial poll, held in 2012.

It’s really regrettable. We will take the judgment of voters very seriously,”said Keiji Furuya, a Lower House member who served as head of Mori’s election campaign office.

Yoneyama promised to continue the policy of the departing governor, who had long thwarted the ambitions of Tepco, the company supplying about a third of Japan’s electricity, to restart the plant.

Reviving the seven-reactor giant, with capacity of 8 gigawatts, is key to saving the utility, which was battered by the Fukushima explosions and meltdowns, and then the repeated admissions of coverups and safety lapses after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Tepco is vital to Abe’s energy policy, which relies on rebooting more of the reactors that once provided about 30 percent of the nation’s electricity needs.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/10/17/national/politics-diplomacy/anti-nuclear-candidate-yoneyama-leading-niigata-gubernatorial-election/

Anti-nuclear novice wins Japan election, blow to nuclear restarts

An anti-nuclear candidate won an upset victory in a Japanese regional election on Sunday, a blow to Tokyo Electric Power’s attempts to restart the world’s biggest atomic power station and a challenge to the government’s energy policy.

Ryuichi Yoneyama, 49, a doctor-lawyer who has never held office and is backed mostly by left-wing parties, won the race for governor of Niigata north of Tokyo, Japanese media projected, in a vote dominated by concerns over the future of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station and nuclear safety more than five years after the Fukushima catastrophe of March 2011.

“As I have promised all of you, under current circumstances where we can’t protect your lives and your way of life, I declare clearly that I can’t approve a restart,” Yoneyama told supporters at his campaign headquarters.

Cheers of “Banzai!” erupted as media began projecting him the winner over former mayor Tamio Mori, 67, backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and initially favored for an easy victory.

Yoneyama had more than 500,000 votes to about 430,000 for Mori with 93 percent of the vote counted in the region on the Japan Sea coast, public broadcaster NHK said.

Mori, a former construction ministry bureaucrat, apologized to his supporters for failing to win the election.

Yoneyama, who had run unsuccessfully for office four times, promised to continue the policy of the outgoing governor who had long thwarted the ambitions of Tepco, as the company supplying about a third of Japan’s electricity is known, to restart the plant.

Reviving the seven-reactor giant, with capacity of 8 gigawatts, is key to saving the utility, which was brought low by the Fukushima explosions and meltdowns, and then the repeated admissions of cover-ups and safety lapses after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Tepco, put under government control in 2012, is vital to Abe’s energy policy, which relies on rebooting more of the reactors that once met about 30 percent of the nation’s needs.

As the race tightened, the election became a litmus test for nuclear safety and put Abe’s energy policy and Tepco’s handling of Fukushima back under the spotlight.

“The talk was of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, but I think the result will affect nuclear restarts across the country,” said Shigeaki Koga, a former trade and industry ministry official turned critic of nuclear restarts and the Abe administration.

Koga told Reuters it was important that Yoneyama join forces with another newly elected governor skeptical of nuclear restarts, Satoshi Mitazono of Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan. “Without strong support from others, it won’t be easy to take on Tepco,” he said.

TROUBLES

Tepco spokesman Tatsuhiro Yamagishi said the company couldn’t comment on the choice of Niigata governor but respected the vote and would strive to apply the lessons of the Fukushima disaster to its management of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.

The government wants to restart units that pass safety checks, also promoting renewables and burning more coal and natural gas.

Only two of Japan’s 42 reactors are running more than five years after Fukushima, but the Niigata plant’s troubles go back further.

Several reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa have been out of action since an earthquake in 2007 caused radiation leaks and fires in a disaster that prefigured the Fukushima calamity and Tepco’s bungled response.

Niigata voters opposed restarting the plant by 73 percent to 27 percent, according to an NHK exit poll.

Yoneyama, who has worked as a radiological researcher, said on the campaign trail that Tepco didn’t have the means to prevent Niigata children from getting thyroid cancer in a nuclear accident, as he said had happened in Fukushima. He said the company didn’t have a solid evacuation plan.

The LDP’s Mori, meanwhile, was forced to tone down his support for restarting the plant as the race tightened, media said, insisting safety was the top priority for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, while promoting the use of natural gas and solar power in Niigata.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-nuclear-election-idUSKBN12G0HM

Yoneyama, backed by opposition, wins in Niigata

NIIGATA–Ryuichi Yoneyama, a doctor backed by the opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, was set to win the Niigata gubernatorial election on Oct. 16, defeating three independent rookie candidates, including Tamio Mori, who was supported by the ruling coalition.

The main issue of the election was Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plan to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the prefecture, the world’s largest facility. The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety inspections of the offline reactors are in their final stages.

Yoneyama, 49, was also an independent rookie. He has expressed his intention to continue the stance of Governor Hirohiko Izumida, saying that he would not approve the restart of the reactors unless the 2011 disaster at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 plant is fully scrutinized. In addition, he called for a workable evacuation plan to secure the safety of local residents in the event of a serious accident.

Izumida, who is in his third term as Niigata governor, didn’t seek re-election.

Mori, 67, was backed by the the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito. Although the LDP promotes nuclear energy, Mori showed cautiousness during the campaign, saying that he would say no to a restart if the prefectural government finds a problem with it even after the NRA gives the green light to TEPCO.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201610160047.html

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October 17, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

An obscure election race in Japan may decide the fate of the world’s biggest nuclear plant

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A visitor is silhouetted next to binoculars as he looks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant, which is the world’s biggest, at an observatory of its exhibition hall in Kashiwazaki

NIIGATA, Japan (Reuters) – A regional election north of Tokyo between candidates most Japanese have never heard of may decide the fate of the world’s biggest nuclear plant and mark a turning point for an industry all but shut down after the Fukushima disaster.

The campaign for governor of Niigata Prefecture has boiled down to two men and one issue: whether to restart the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station.

Reviving the seven-reactor giant, with capacity of 8 gigawatts, is key to saving Tokyo Electric Power, which was brought low by the 2011 Fukushima explosions and meltdowns, and then the repeated admissions of cover-ups and safety lapses after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Tepco, as the company supplying about a third of Japan’s electricity is known, is in turn vital to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s energy policy, which relies on rebooting more of the reactors that once met about 30 percent of the nation’s needs.

But Ryuichi Yoneyama, 49, an anti-nuclear doctor-lawyer who has never held office and is backed by mostly left-wing parties, has made a tight race for governor of Niigata against an initially favored veteran politician from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-nuclear party, Japanese media say.

In a sign that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party also sees a tough contest, party heavyweights were dispatched to campaign for Tamio Mori, 67. The former mayor and construction ministry bureaucrat is seen more likely to allow Kashiwazaki-Kariwa to restart.

Distrust of Tepco, put under government control in 2012, is so high in Niigata that this election has become a litmus test for nuclear safety and put Abe’s energy policy and Tepco’s handling of Fukushima back under the spotlight.

The government wants to restart units that pass safety checks, also promoting renewables and burning more coal and natural gas.

Radiation leaks

Only two of Japan’s 42 reactors are running more than five years after Fukushima, but the Niigata plant’s troubles go back further.

Several reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa have been out of action since an earthquake in 2007 caused radiation leaks and fires in a disaster that prefigured the Fukushima calamity and Tepco’s bungled response.

A Tepco spokeswoman said the company could not comment on the election and was committed to boosting safety at the plant.

On the campaign trail in Niigata, help for Tepco is in short supply.

Yoneyama has promised to continue the outgoing governor’s policy of refusing to allow a restart unless Tepco provides a fuller explanation of the Fukushima disaster.

He has run for local office unsuccessfully four times but says this time he feels different, as the public supports his anti-nuclear, anti-Tepco message.

Yoneyama, who has worked as a radiological researcher, says Tepco doesn’t have the means to prevent Niigata children from getting thyroid cancer in a nuclear accident, as he says has happened in Fukushima. And he says the company doesn’t have a solid evacuation plan.

“As I go from town to town and village to village, I hear the same thing: ‘We want you to protect this town. We want you to protect our hometown, our lives and our children’s future,'” he told a crowd in Nagaoka this week.

The LDP’s Mori has toned down his support for restarting the plant as the race tightens, media say, and now insists that safety is the top priority for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, while promoting the use of natural gas and solar power in Niigata.

LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba, a former cabinet minister and party secretary-general, told Reuters the party sent him to Niigata to campaign for Mori because “we can’t take anything for granted”.

“Mr. Mori is not a person who just acquiesces to what the national government says,” Ishiba said. “He has courage and will stand up to the government if he thinks our policies are wrong.”

http://uk.businessinsider.com/r-japan-election-key-to-worlds-biggest-nuclear-plant-and-abes-energy-policy-2016-10?r=US&IR=T

October 15, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Niigata governor candidates must debate nuclear safety in earnest

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is the largest nuclear plant in the world, owned by Tepco, Tepco will do anything to get it restarted.

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Official campaigning for the upcoming Niigata gubernatorial election started on Sept. 29, setting the stage for debate on the safety of a nuclear power plant in the prefecture.

The issue of the safety of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant has gained even more traction as Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida, who has been cautious about approving Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plan to restart the idled plant, has announced he will not seek re-election.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety inspections of the offline reactors, which the electric utility is seeking to bring back online, are in their final stages.

The election inevitably revolves around whether the new governor should allow TEPCO to proceed with the plan if the NRA gives the green light.

Four independent rookie candidates are running for the poll. But the race is effectively shaping up as a one-on-one battle between Tamio Mori, the former mayor of the city of Nagaoka in the prefecture supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, and Ryuichi Yoneyama, a doctor backed by the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends.

Some 460,000 people live within 30 kilometers of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant. The candidates should announce their proposals to protect the safety of these residents during campaigning for the Oct. 16 election.

Plans to ensure the safe and smooth evacuations of residents living around nuclear power plants when a serious accident occurs are described as the last safety net for nuclear power plants.

The governors of prefectures where nuclear plants are located, as the chiefs of the local governments, have to take on a huge responsibility for the safety of local residents.

Izumida has insisted that he wouldn’t start discussions on any plan to restart a reactor in his prefecture unless the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, also operated by TEPCO, is fully reviewed and explained.

He has undertaken his own investigation of the catastrophic accident by setting up an expert committee within the prefectural government.

Izumida has also criticized the fact that the new nuclear safety standards introduced after the 2011 accident don’t require plans for evacuating local residents. He has been calling on the central government to improve the standards.

In 2002, it was revealed that TEPCO had covered up damage at its nuclear power plants including the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. The magnitude-6.8 Niigata Chuetsu-oki offshore earthquake, which rocked Niigata Prefecture in July 2007, triggered a fire and resulted in small leaks of radiation at the plant.

Many people in the prefecture along the Sea of Japan remain deeply concerned about the safety of the nuclear plant and distrustful of TEPCO.

Izumida has responded to the concerns by raising issues about nuclear safety.

In the gubernatorial race, Yoneyama has cast himself as the candidate to carry on Izumida’s legacy.

I will take over the (nuclear power) policy of Izumida and won’t start discussions on any reactor restart unless the Fukushima disaster is fully reviewed and explained,” he has said.

Mori, who has been critical of Izumida’s political approach, has taken a different stance toward the issue.

I will put the top priority on the safety of people in the prefecture and rigorously examine the conclusion the NRA reaches (in its safety inspection),” he has said.

The difference in position on the issue between the two candidates is likely to be a key factor for Niigata voters at the polls.

The governors of prefectures hosting nuclear power plants have the “right to consent” to a plan to restart a reactor. But this is only a conventional right based on safety agreements with the electric utilities involved and has no legal basis.

When new Kagoshima Governor Satoshi Mitazono, who took office in July, asked Kyushu Electric Power Co. to suspend the operation of its Sendai nuclear power plant in the prefecture, he was criticized for undermining the central government’s energy policy.

But the criticism is off the mark. When a nuclear accident occurs, the local communities around the plant suffer the most.

To allay anxiety among residents in areas around nuclear plants, the local governments concerned, through negotiations with the operators of the plants, have established systems and rights that allow them to become involved in safety efforts.

The Fukushima disaster has only increased anxiety among residents around nuclear power plants.

The chief of the local government in an area home to a nuclear plant has every right to refuse to entrust the safety of local residents entirely to the utility and the central government.

Niigata Prefecture is not an area where TEPCO supplies power, but it has been bearing the risks involved in the operation of a massive nuclear power plant that generates electricity for the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The gubernatorial election will be a choice that directly affects the central government’s energy policy.

We are eager to see the candidates engaged in meaningful debate on the safety of the nuclear plant based on a national perspective.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201610030020.html

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October 5, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment