Murakami, Tokai crisis mayor, officially retires

Kyodo

Tokai Mayor Tatsuya Murakami, known for his strident opposition to nuclear power, has retired after 16 years leading the Ibaraki Prefecture village, which hosts multiple atomic energy facilities and the uranium plant where a deadly criticality accident occurred in 1999.

“The last 2½ years were a heart-breaking uphill battle,” Murakami, 70, told a news conference Friday, recalling the March 2011 quake and tsunami that triggered the meltdowns at the poorly protected Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in the neighboring prefecture.

The village’s Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant had a brush with disaster after one of its three emergency power sources was damaged by tsunami. Tokai is about 115 km northeast of Tokyo.

“The Japanese people should turn (the experience) into an occasion to review their values and lifestyles,” which are currently focused on the economy, Murakami said.

After seeing the damage done to the Fukushima plant, Murakami opposed operator Japan Atomic Power Co.’s plan to restart Tokai No. 2. “Japan is neither entitled to nor capable of controlling nuclear power,” he said at the time.

Murakami served four terms at the village, which has a population of about 38,000, and led a conference of 80 municipal chiefs aiming to phase out nuclear power who called for an overhaul of Japan’s energy policy.

He declined to seek a fifth term in the Sept. 8 mayoral race, and the contest was won by Osamu Yamada, 52, a former vice mayor who was tapped by Murakami to be his successor. Yamada, however, has taken a neutral position on restarting Tokai’s atomic power station.

Kayoko Sato, 43, a member of a homemakers’ group campaigning to decommission the facility, said Murakami “made it easier for us to oppose the nuclear power plant using our real names.”

Hiroko Uehara, 64, an official with the municipal chiefs’ conference against nuclear power, said she wants Murakami to “lead the anti-nuclear movement from now on as a free, private citizen.”

But Noboru Suzuki, a local assembly member, said that Murakami’s decisive stance generated discord. “The head of the village should have been neutral, but because (Murakami) made his position clear, it created emotional conflict among villagers,” he said.

Suzuki said many residents make their living in the nuclear power business and Murakami’s departure will make it easier for him and his colleagues to lobby the new mayor on restarting the plant.

Since June, Japan Atomic Power has been constructing seawalls to protect Tokai No. 2 from tsunami and avoid a repeat of the Fukushima crisis.

“We will decide whether to restart or decommission the reactor during the four-year term,” Yamada, the new mayor, said.

Tokai has played a central role in the development of the domestic nuclear power industry. It was home to the laboratory where Japan’s first criticality, or sustained chain reaction, was achieved in 1957 and the first reactor in the country to generate electricity, several years later.

In 1999, an uncontrolled chain reaction at JCO Co., a uranium-processing firm in the village, caused the deaths of two workers and exposed hundreds of residents to radiation. Murakami acted to evacuate homes within 350 meters of the plant before waiting for instructions from the central government.