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Pro-nuclear incumbent Shingo Mimura wins fifth term in Aomori gubernatorial election

Distance from Fukushima to Aomori is 342 kilometers northward. This air travel distance is equal to 213 miles. Those people haved learned nothing from their Fukushima neighbors.
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Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura (center) raises his hands in the city of Aomori on Sunday after being predicted to win Sunday’s gubernatorial election
June 3, 2019
AOMORI – Shingo Mimura, a pro-nuclear incumbent, won his fifth term in the Aomori gubernatorial election on Sunday, stressing his past achievements and focusing away from the area’s involvement in the country’s nuclear fuel recycling policy during campaigning.
 
Mimura, 63, backed by the local chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, defeated 65-year-old dentist Wakako Sahara, who was supported by opposition parties.
 
The incumbent garnered 329,048 votes, against 105,466 votes collected by Sahara. Voter turnout stood at 40.08 percent.
 
The prefecture hosts a cluster of nuclear facilities, including an incomplete plant in Rokkasho where spent uranium fuel will be reprocessed for recycling.
 
During the 17-day official campaigning, Mimura touted his role in having expanded agricultural exports and promoted administrative reforms, while mostly avoiding discussion of the controversial nuclear policy.
 
Aomori Prefecture received about ¥20 billion in nuclear fuel tax income from nuclear facility operators in fiscal 2017, accounting for about 11 percent of the prefecture’s annual tax revenue.
 
A person involved in Mimura’s campaign said there were many residents in Aomori Prefecture who did not want the nuclear issue to be the focus of the election as they financially benefit from having the fuel recycling facilities there.
 
Sahara, who opposes nuclear power generation, criticized Mimura for promoting the central government’s nuclear power policy, but was unable to gain broad support from voters.
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June 10, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Gov. Masao Uchibori beats three rivals to secure re-election in Fukushima

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Incumbent Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori receives flowers at his election office in the city of Fukushima on Sunday evening as vote counts suggest he has secured a second-term victory in the gubernatorial election held earlier in the day.
Oct 29, 2018
FUKUSHIMA – Incumbent Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori secured another four-year term in a gubernatorial election Sunday, beating three challengers.
Throughout the election campaign, the 54-year-old governor, who was in his first term, enjoyed a comfortable lead over the other candidates — Jun Kanayama, 78, a self-employed worker, Sho Takahashi, 30, the owner of an IT company, and Kazushi Machida, 42, prefectural chairman of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).
While all four candidates ran as independents, Uchibori received support from the ruling and opposition parties, except for the JCP.
The prefecture, where there are about 1.6 million eligible voters, is still on the road to recovery following nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, which were triggered by the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
During the campaign, Uchibori pledged further efforts to rebuild local communities and promote the return of residents who have moved out of the prefecture due to the disasters, although many voters voiced concerns about the candidates proposing few specific measures to help residents recover from the devastation.

November 3, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | Leave a comment

Could nuclear advocacy be Abe’s undoing?

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Nuclear foe: Ryuichi Yoneyama (center), a medical doctor who advocates anti-nuclear policies, raises his hands after he was assured of winning the gubernatorial election in Niigata Prefecture on Oct. 16.

Voters have elected anti-nuclear governors in Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures in recent months. These elections can be considered referenda on nuclear power because that issue was the main focus of debate in both campaigns. The results have put Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and his plans to rev up the country’s fleet of nuclear reactors — behind the eight ball of public opinion and prefectural politics.

There will be a slew of gubernatorial elections in 2017 that will focus on nuclear energy, an issue where the Liberal Democratic Party is vulnerable because it was in charge when all of Japan’s reactors were built and was arguably complicit in the culture of complacency and regulatory capture that compromised public safety. The LDP owns the Fukushima disaster and thus the shambolic cleanup further discredits Abe’s party.

The media portrayed the victory of Ryuichi Yoneyama in Niigata over the “nuclear village” candidate, former construction ministry bureaucrat Tamio Mori as a major upset. Abe endorsed Mori, but his pro-nuclear advocacy proved his undoing. Mori toned down that message toward the end of his campaign but it was too late to fend off Yoneyama, who rode the wave of nuclear anxieties into office. He replaces another anti-nuclear governor who stymied Tepco’s plans to restart reactors in the prefecture in the aftermath of the Fukushima debacle and revelations of slack safety practices.

In 2007, the massive 8-gigawatt Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which consists of seven reactors, shut down after a strong earthquake struck Niigata. Local scientists had sued Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government for selecting a dangerous site for the world’s largest atomic power plant, arguing that it is built on an active fault line, but a judge dismissed their claims as baseless in 2005.

Mother Nature ruled otherwise. The reactors all shut down, but the land subsided, breaking water pipes so that fire-fighting was delayed. More importantly, the manager of the plant said during a subsequent NHK interview that first responders had been very lucky, explaining that he and his staff would have been helpless if anything had gone wrong, as they were all locked out of the command center where the reactor controls are located because the door to the room had jammed shut due to land subsidence. Improvising, they set up whiteboards in the parking lot and relied on their mobile phones, but they had absolutely no means to manage any reactor emergency if there had been one. This story is not forgotten in Niigata.

There is heightened concern among most Japanese about nuclear safety following the three meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011. Three major investigations into the nuclear disaster have pinpointed human error as the main cause of the meltdowns, highlighting cozy and collusive relations between Tepco and nuclear watchdogs that compromised safety because regulations were not strictly enforced and regulators averted their eyes from serious breaches. They are also mindful that back in 2002 a whistleblower alerted authorities to Tepco’s systematic falsification of repair and maintenance records for all 17 of its reactors. A coverup failed and the media subsequently revealed that all of the utilities operating nuclear reactors had engaged in similarly shoddy practices, cutting corners to save money.

Have the lessons of Fukushima been learned and led to appropriate countermeasures to upgrade safety? Apparently voters are not convinced by the PR machine that touts stricter safety regulations and hardware upgrades, and they have been finding support among judges who have issued injunctions blocking reactor restarts that have been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. The NRA is the reincarnation of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which lost all credibility following post-Fukushima meltdown revelations of slipshod oversight. Alas, the Homer Simpsons of NISA now constitute the majority of NRA employees, undermining the credibility of the new nuclear watchdog agency.

The government and utilities are supposed to consult local opinion, but in practice they limit this to communities hosting reactors because these people have a vested interest in rebooting nuclear plants. Nuclear power plants don’t generate revenue and subsidies if idle, while restarting a reactor opens the spigots of cash that these remote communities are dependent on. Now that the evacuation zones have been expanded to 30 kilometers, extending into adjoining towns that shoulder the same risks without the benefits, it would make sense to give these communities a say in restarts. However, the central government opposes that because it fears that locals who have not been co-opted wouldn’t be in favor of restarts, especially since evacuation drills have been chaotic, revealing that the government is advocating restarts before it is properly prepared to deal with a crisis.

Only two of Japan’s 42 reactors are operating and one of them is in Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, where another anti-nuclear governor won election. This reactor is not far from where the devastating Kumamoto earthquake struck in April, in a region that also features a number of active volcanoes spewing ash that could block roads and impede an emergency evacuation.

What are the chances of a simultaneous earthquake, typhoon, tsunami and volcanic eruption affecting a nuclear reactor? Probably not that high, but there was such a deadly combination of earthquakes, eruptions, landslide and tsunami with a 100-meter wave recorded in Kyushu in 1791 that killed 15,000 people. But no worries — that was on a different part of the island.

Exit polls from Niigata’s gubernatorial elections found that 73 percent of voters oppose restarting the Niigata plant and only 27 percent are in favor. A mid-October Asahi poll found that 57 percent of Japanese nationwide were opposed to nuclear restarts and only 29 percent were in favor. More importantly, the same poll found that 73 percent of Japanese favor a zero nuclear energy policy in the near future and just 22 percent are opposed to the idea.

What must worry Abe even more is that within the LDP, 45 percent of members oppose nuclear energy while just 42 percent support his nuclear advocacy. Thus former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may be right with his recent assertion that Abe has a nuclear Achilles’ heel that may lead to his downfall.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/10/29/commentary/nuclear-advocacy-abes-undoing/#.WBYLfiTia-d

October 30, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , | Leave a comment

Abe’s Nuclear Japan Goals Face More Ballot-Box Battles in 2017

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– Anti-nuclear candidates win in Niigata, Kagoshima prefectures

– Three gubernatorial races next year in regions facing restarts

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambition to restart the country’s fleet of nuclear reactors may face further challenges from local elections.

The victory of an anti-nuclear gubernatorial candidate in the central prefecture of Niigata on Sunday, following a similar win in the southern Kagoshima region earlier this year, is complicating efforts by the country’s ruling party to revive Japan’s nuclear fleet. There will be at least three such elections next year in areas where utilities are vying to restart reactors.

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Even as the Abe administration remains committed to including nuclear power as part of Japan’s energy mix, implementing this vision will require overcoming ever-more-dogged resistance from local communities and their representatives,” Tobias Harris, a vice president with Teneo Intelligence in Washington D.C., said in a note Monday. “The restart process will continue to proceed unevenly at best.”

Almost all the country’s reactors remain shut because of new safety regulations and public opposition following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Only 2 of Japan’s 42 operable reactors are producing power commercially as of Oct. 6, when Kyushu Electric Power Co. shut its Sendai No. 1 unit for maintenance. 

Local Approval

Sendai’s return to service may be delayed due to the recently elected Kagoshima governor’s strong opposition to its operation. Local government approval — including endorsement from the governor — is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before returning plants to service.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. fell the most in almost four months on Monday after Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor of Niigata over the weekend. Yoneyama won’t support restarting the prefecture’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant without a deeper review of the Fukushima meltdown and Niigata’s current evacuation measures.

Elections will be watched closely as support from local governments are crucial to get more nuclear reactors back online, according to Syusaku Nishikawa, an analyst at Daiwa Securities Co. About 57 percent of the Japanese public oppose restarts, according to an Asahi newspaper poll earlier this month. Lawsuits have also threatened reactor operations.

Public opposition and the slow pace of returning reactors will be a challenge to Abe’s goal of having nuclear power provide at least 20 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030, Harris said.

Gubernatorial races are held within about 30 days of when the current term ends, which will happen in 2017 in the following prefectures, according to the local-government websites and data compiled by Bloomberg:

Shizuoka

Chubu Electric Power Co.’s only nuclear power plant is in Shizuoka prefecture, where two of the Hamaoka facility’s units are under review by the nation’s regulator. The current governor, Heita Kawakatsu, said Monday the issue of nuclear restarts should be thoroughly debated during the election, according to Chunichi newspaper. He said in May the prefecture should hold a public referendum on whether the reactors restart, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

While an exact date for the election hasn’t been decided, it will likely occur as early as June, according to the prefecture’s administrative office. Chubu Electric declined to comment on next year’s gubernatorial race and the current governor’s stance. The governor’s office wasn’t immediately available to comment.

Miyagi

Tohoku Electric Power Co. asked the national nuclear regulator to review the safety of the No. 2 reactor at its Onagawa nuclear plant in 2013. Yoshihiro Murai, governor of Miyagi prefecture since 2005 and not affiliated with any party, will not take a position on the restart until after the review, according to an official from the prefecture’s nuclear safety policy division. Tohoku Electric declined to comment.

Ibaraki

Ibaraki prefecture is in a similar position as Miyagi.

Japan Atomic Power Co. asked for a federal safety review in 2014 of its Tokai Dai-Ni plant. Politically-independent Masaru Hashimoto, governor since 1993, said in an NHK interview earlier this year he’ll make a decision on the restart after the review is complete. Japan Atomic declined to comment. The governor’s office wasn’t immediately available to comment.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-18/abe-s-nuclear-japan-goals-face-more-ballot-box-battles-in-2017

October 20, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment