• Kyodo

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The mayor of Maki, Niigata Prefecture, who for years has resisted Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s effort to build a nuclear plant in the town, said Monday he will not seek re-election when his term ends in January.

Takaaki Sasaguchi, 55, said he is retiring to devote himself to his family’s sake brewing business.

Since he became mayor in 1996, the town of some 30,000 people has been split between proponents and opponents of the nuclear plant project.

In August 1996, Sasaguchi held a plebiscite — the first of its kind in Japan — asking local residents whether they support building a nuclear plant in the town.

More than 60 percent of the residents who cast votes expressed their opposition, effectively putting the project on hold.

“Neither Tohoku Electric nor the central government has given up on the project, and the situation (surrounding the town) remains precarious,” Sasaguchi told a news conference. “I want my successor to respect the outcome of the plebiscite.”

The town had been in talks with two adjacent villages on a merger. Sasaguchi terminated the talks after the villages refused the mayor’s request that they hold a plebiscite to gauge their residents’ views on the power plant project.

The Maki town assembly, where proponents of the nuclear plant represent a majority, has repeatedly adopted ordinances to hold a plebiscite asking residents’ opinions on the proposed merger. But each time the mayor exercised his authority to scrap the proposed ordinance, and a stalemate continues.