Reactor restarts haunt Fukushima race

LDP candidate in a jam over Abe reactivation plan


Masako Mori is concerned about her party’s pledge to restart nuclear reactors in Japan.

Mori is facing a bruising battle as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s candidate for the Fukushima prefectural district in the July 21 House of Councilors election.

The prefecture is home to the No. 1 nuclear plant crippled by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Her rivals include Emi Kaneko of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which pledged to reduce the country’s dependence on nuclear energy to zero by the 2030s.

The two women are both incumbent Upper House lawmakers. But only one seat is being contested in the constituency this time as a result of electoral reform.

“This is a tough election, as only one candidate can win,” Mori said in a speech in front of JR Fukushima Station on July 4, when campaigning for the election kicked off.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also LDP president, visited the prefecture that day to rally support for Mori. “In a bid to accelerate reconstruction of Fukushima and other parts of the country, I want you all to empower Mori,” Abe said.

Before the number of seats in the Fukushima constituency shrank, Mori’s re-election was considered a near certainty because she is a member of the Abe Cabinet. In the election six years ago, Kaneko came in first with a margin of 130,000 votes against Mori, who won the other seat in second place.

In addition to the reduction of seats, the Abe government’s intention to restart nuclear plants is also casting a shadow over Mori’s re-election bid, though strong public support for Abe himself is working in her favor.

Currently, only two of the country’s 50 commercial atomic reactors are in operation, while the other 48 have been idled due to safety concerns following the 2011 crisis.

With Fukushima still reeling from the nuclear meltdowns, the LDP’s Fukushima chapter pledged to abolish all reactors in the prefecture in its own campaign platform.

While calling for stronger measures to deal with the accident, Mori has refused to state clearly where she stands on the issue of firing up reactors.

“She is attempting to avoid the nuclear reactor restart issue,” a senior official on her campaign team said.

Kaneko, for her part, is facing the backlash of public disdain for the DPJ, which relinquished power to the LDP in the House of Representatives election last December.

“The key is how to hold onto the 500,000 votes she won six years ago,” a senior official from Kaneko’s campaign said.

She has highlighted the DPJ’s pledge to reduce the country’s dependence on nuclear power in order to set her apart from Mori and win the support of fence-sitters.

Kaneko is also going after the LDP by criticizing gaffes made by the party’s policy chief, Sanae Takaichi, who last month said nobody has died due to the Fukushima disaster.

“The country’s future cannot be left to the (LDP-led) government, which disregards human life in such a way,” Kaneko said in a stump speech in the city of Fukushima on July 4.

Among other candidates, Tomo Iwabuchi, who is running on the Japanese Communist Party ticket, is urging the government to immediately eliminate all nuclear reactors nationwide.