Ex-mayor of nation’s nuclear birthplace comes out swinging against atomic power

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

The former mayor of a village that had a pioneering role in the nation’s nuclear development expressed his opposition Sunday to the country continuing to look to nuclear power as an energy source.

“It has been said that a local community can enjoy benefits by hosting a nuclear power plant, but it is just an illusion,” Tatsuya Murakami, who served as mayor of Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, for 16 years until his retirement last September, told a public gathering in Tokyo.

Around one-third of the village’s general account budget was from nuclear facilities located there while he was mayor, “but the ‘nuclear money’ has made our industrial structure disproportionately depend on nuclear-related businesses,” he said. “As a result, we have failed to cultivate other businesses.”

The village’s shipment of manufactured goods stands at only ¥30 billion, compared with that of Myoko, Niigata Prefecture, with a population almost the same as Tokaimura’s, at ¥140 billion, according to Murakami.

“The nuclear operators are just like lords of the community, and people seek cozy ties with them. To criticize the lords is taboo,” Murakami said as he talked about the situation in the village where nation’s first research reactor achieved criticality in 1957.

His comments came after the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided Friday on a national energy policy that supports the use of nuclear power now and in the future, retracting a nuclear phaseout goal introduced by the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led government in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Murakami has served as a co-representative of the Mayors for a Nuclear Free Japan, which comprises around 90 former and incumbent mayors supporting the nuclear phaseout policy. Incumbent mayors include those of major cities, such as Sapporo, Aomori and Nagoya.

The group has recently surveyed its members about their views on the state’s plans for disaster preparedness, in which local governments located within a 30-km radius of nuclear plants, known as an “urgent protective action planning zone” (UPZ), are required to draw up evacuation plans in case of nuclear accidents.

Nearby municipalities, meanwhile, are asked to compile plans for accepting evacuees from the UPZs.

According to the survey’s responses, local leaders see difficulties in making these plans. One mayor in a UPZ said it would be quite difficult to evacuate the residents if multiple disasters — nuclear as well as earthquakes and tsunami — destroy transportation links, such as roads and bridges.

Other mayors said they do not know how to decontaminate evacuees from a nuclear disaster and where to accommodate them.

“We would be able to accept them, for example at schools, for a short time, but we do not know how to take care of them if their life as evacuees is extended for a long period, as we have seen in the case of the Fukushima accident,” one mayor said.

Katsutaka Idogawa, the former mayor of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, which hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex, said in announcing the survey results: “We had compiled an evacuation plan before the accident, but it was useless.”

The entire population of Futaba was evacuated in the wake of the nuclear crisis.

“Some residents said it had taken them eight hours to make what was usually a one-hour journey. We had to use a narrow, two-lane road to evacuate people, and we would have been isolated if the road had been cut by landslides,” Idogawa said.

Six months after retiring, Murakami now gives lectures several times a month around the nation to encourage people to raise their voices against nuclear power.

“I had been thinking about how to reconstruct our village in the wake of the nation’s first criticality accident in 1999,” which killed two workers at a nuclear fuel processor and exposed hundreds of residents to radiation, he said. “We were thrust into notoriety — Tokaimura was contaminated with radiation and the villagers were not being chosen as marital partners.

“I believe now that a local municipality should break away from the old mindset focusing only on economic development,” he said. “Rather, we need to create a sustainable society, taking good care of the environment as well as ourselves.”

  • Starviking

    Ex-Mayor Murakami’s logic is pretty flimsy. Comparing his village with one successful city in Japan does not make much of a case. And his municipality being a village shows another flaw in his logic: the only reason his municipality has a population comparable to a Japanese city is because of the nuclear facilities. When the two villages that make-up the modern village of Tokai merged in 1956, their combined population was just over 10,000. A more likely scenario for a Tokaimura without nuclear power can be seen in the hollowed-out towns and villages of Japan.

    As for the nuclear operators being ‘just like lords of the community’, that’s a pretty ironic thing to say, considering how local and national politicians act in Japan.

    His statement that Tokaimura was contaminated with radiation after the 1999 criticality accident not only plays to the base reaction that faced Fukushima refugees in 2011, but is factually incorrect. The surroundings of the Tokai plant were irradiated by gamma and neutron radiation, but no appreciable contamination from radionuclides occurred. It’s a pity that during his time as the mayor of the village he failed to study the incident in any depth.