FUKUSHIMA – Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato said Thursday that he will not seek a third term in office and will not run in the gubernatorial election in late October, citing his recent decision to accept a plan to build contaminated soil storage facilities near the crippled nuclear power plant in exchange for state subsidies.
“I’ve made key progress in the challenges facing Fukushima as we seek to rebuild it,” Sato told a news conference in the city of Fukushima. “I’ve come to think that rebuilding should be implemented under a new leader.”
The prefectural chapter of the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, and the prefectural chapter of a major labor union federation had urged the 66-year-old governor to seek another four-year term in the Oct. 26 election.
Vice Gov. Masao Uchibori, 50, currently on loan from the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, is the person most likely to be tapped to run in the governor’s place, according to sources.
Sato told the news conference that he hopes a person who “can steadily proceed with rebuilding by fully carrying on my ideas” will succeed him as governor.
Last Monday, the governor conveyed to Cabinet ministers the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s decision to accept the central government’s plan to build facilities near the disaster-struck Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to store contaminated soil and other waste collected within the prefecture through decontamination efforts for up to 30 years.
In exchange, the state will provide the prefecture with ¥301 billion in subsidies over the three decades, roughly three times the amount originally offered.
Sato is the first not to seek re-election among the governors of the three Tohoku prefectures — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima — hardest hit by the earthquake-triggered tsunami on March 11, 2011.
With backing from the DPJ and the Social Democratic Party, Sato won the gubernatorial election in 2006, beating a candidate fielded by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito. He was re-elected in 2010, this time also with support from the LDP and New Komeito, which were then in the opposition.
For the upcoming gubernatorial race, the LDP’s prefectural chapter has decided to field Takeshi Hachimura, a 55-year-old former Bank of Japan official, while the party’s head office in Tokyo has withheld its decision.
The LDP head office is envisioning a candidate who can be backed by both ruling and opposition camps, while the DPJ, which has backed Sato in previous gubernatorial races, plans to field someone new following Sato’s decision not to seek re-election, according to lawmakers.
Other possible contenders include Yoshihiro Kumasaka, 62, a former mayor of Miyako in Iwate Prefecture, who hails from the city of Fukushima.
Following reports that Sato will not run in the upcoming gubernatorial election, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga praised the governor for his work in connection with the nuclear disaster triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami. Suga told a news conference that the governor has tackled post-disaster work with a “strong sense of responsibility. It’s a significant achievement.”