• Kyodo

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A scheduled public hearing on the planned construction of a Chugoku Electric Power Co. nuclear plant in the town of Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, erupted into turmoil Tuesday as hundreds of protesters surrounded the site.

Hundred of protesters gather Tuesday at the site of a public hearing.

The hearing was sponsored by the the Natural Resources and Energy Agency under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to mark the first such hearing in the country since the deadly criticality accident in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, in September 1999.

But about 200 local residents opposed to Chugoku Electric Power’s plan staged a sit-in in front of the hall where the hearing was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., blocking agency officials and other participants from entering. The protesters, whose ranks swelled to about 600, called the event a mere formality and said that the plant, and its two reactors, will be built anyway.

The hearing started shortly before noon with agency chief Masaharu Fujitomi and other agency officials present. As part of the hearing, 20 local residents were chosen to state their opinions, with about 300 others given gallery seats. The residents’ representatives gave opinions for and against nuclear energy.

Outside, the 600 protesters held their own meeting.

Hiromasa Kawamoto, chairman of the local association which opposes the construction plan, criticized the central government, saying “MITI had never made any effort to directly listen to local voices. What good will it do now?”

Following the hearing, if the Yamaguchi governor agrees with the construction plan, it will be submitted to the electric power development and coordination council for discussions as part of the central government’s electric power development plan.

But stiff opposition in Kaminoseki, in addition to some 100,000 sq. meters of land at the planned site that has yet to be procured, is likely to delay the utility’s plan to have the proposal on the council’s table by the end of this year.

Chugoku Electric Power plans to build two reactors, each with a total output of 1.37 million kw per hour.

Construction of the first one is to start in September 2006, and the facility is to go on-stream in November 2011, according to the utility.

Since the plan came to light, the town has been split. Kaminoseki Mayor Hideyuki Katayama, who supports the project, is serving his fifth term. But residents of the western part of the town, where the plant is to be built, are waging campaigns against the project.

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