Villagers in Kariwa, Niigata Prefecture, opposed to introducing plutonium mixed oxide fuel in a local nuclear reactor expressed their happiness Monday after a majority of voters turned thumbs down on the plan in a plebiscite the day before.

Kariwa residents against a plan to use MOX at the village’s nuclear power plant celebrate the results of a plebiscite late Sunday.

Opponents of the MOX fuel plan said they saw a definite momentum swing in their favor, even though the vote is not legally binding and the plan could still go ahead.

“The number of people who voted yes on the project was much smaller than the number who registered as members of a pro-MOX group in the village,” said Kazuyuki Takemoto, a member of the anti-MOX group, explaining that most of the registered members of the proponents are employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co. or its subcontractors.

He said the pro-MOX group has 1,900 registered members in the village, far more than the 1,533 who voted for the plan in the plebiscite.

In the village of 5,168 people, about 25 percent of the households have at least one family member with a job related to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.

“Local distrust of nuclear power has increased following a series of incidents, including the accident at the (Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture) JCO fuel processing plant that killed two workers and the falsifying of quality data on MOX fuel for the Takahama nuclear plant,” Takemoto said.

“The poll shows that the villagers do not support the government-led nuclear power plan,” he said. “We are worried that we are only trading our health and safety for more government subsidies given to the village.”

However, Yukio Irizawa, leader of the pro-MOX project group, said, “I do not think the result of the plebiscite means the end of the project. I guess the decision (on whether to proceed with the plan) will go to the central government, which should make the final decision.”

Masaaki Kasahara, representative of a villagers’ group that promoted the plebiscite, said the significant point is that this was the first local poll on the pluthermal project.

“Taking it as a first step, I hope people in the village will continue expressing their opinions on important issues,” he said.

Kasahara added that, before the plebiscite, public opinion in the village had never been solicited in compiling policies on nuclear power.

Daisuke Yoshida, a member of the Kariwa Municipal Assembly, said, “We now know that there is a lack of understanding of the project among residents, and the voting rates of 88 percent show that they are very much concerned with the issue.

“Some people said the result of a plebiscite should not directly affect national policy. But I wonder for whom the national policy is really intended.”

The result of the plebiscite came after the pro-MOX group, together with the national government, campaigned to boost support.

Sumiko Shimizu, an Upper House member of the Social Democratic Party, said pamphlets bearing the signature of Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma were passed out to every household in Kariwa by about 30 part-time workers who were recruited in Tokyo.

When Shimizu quizzed Hiranuma during an Upper House committee session earlier this month on the campaign’s budget, the minister said, “Some 3 million yen was spent.”

The pamphlet says that if nuclear waste isn’t recycled, storage will become problematic, eventually leading to nuclear plants having to cease operations, and thus increasing the likelihood of a shortage of electricity.

The leaflet also says: “If the pluthermal project is not carried out, the United Kingdom and France, which have signed contracts with Japan on nuclear-waste processing, will criticize us, saying ‘Japan is a country that cannot keep promises.’ “

Five members of the Diet who support the MOX project, including Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and her husband, Upper House member Naoki Tanaka, sent messages to residents stating that the nation is confident that the project is safe. The Tanakas were elected from Niigata Prefecture.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.