Tokai mayor at front of antinuclear drive



Since 1957, when the nation’s first research reactor achieved criticality in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, the village has promoted itself as a “pioneer” of Japan’s nuclear development. But the mood has shifted, and the mayor now a chief advocate of abandoning atomic power.

Amid the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant — the world’s worst in a quarter-century — Mayor Tatsuya Murakami said: “We were consumed with the myth of nuclear security, that an accident would never happen in this country. . . . Japan is not qualified to have nuclear power plants.”

As the only antinuclear mayor among those who host atomic plants, and as a facilitator of a group of more than 70 mayors seeking to cut ties with nuclear power, Murakami has been busy giving speeches and visiting government officials to push for the policy change.

In a recent speech in Tokyo, Murakami, 69, said his antinuclear beliefs have become unshakable since April 13, when Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and key Cabinet ministers confirmed the safety of two offline reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture and called their resumption necessary to ensure a stable power supply this summer.

“They made the decision in an impromptu manner without fully scrutinizing the Fukushima nuclear disaster and without sufficiently tackling its aftermath,” he said, slamming the government’s safety conclusion.

It was speculated that the government was angling to reach a decision before May 5, when the nation’s last operating reactor was to shut down for regular checks, leaving the country without atomic-generated electricity for the first time in 42 years.

” ‘Safety first’ was merely rhetoric,” Murakami said.

All of the nation’s 50 usable commercial reactors are offline amid heightened public concern over nuclear power, triggered by the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima complex. The Oi plant is run by Kansai Electric Power Co.

Tokai, a coastal village, in September 1999 was the site of Japan’s first criticality accident, when two workers were killed at a nuclear fuel processing plant and hundreds of residents were exposed to radiation. Murakami was in his first term as mayor when the workers ignored safety procedures and effectively created a chain reaction in a bucket.

In a 2004 interview on the fifth anniversary of the disaster, he said the village would have to live side by side with the nuclear facilities. “We human beings opened a Pandora’s box with nuclear energy, forcing ourselves to live with nuclear facilities.”

On the 10th anniversary, he said: “It may be possible for the village, after 50 or 100 years, to abandon nuclear facilities, but it is unrealistic at present. . . . I think we have to consider how to coexist with them.”

In a recent interview, however, he said that his stance had “completely changed” since the remarks of 2009. “I believe now we should step forward without nuclear power.”

He is now seeking to scrap the atomic power complex in the village — the Tokai No. 2 station — claiming it would be virtually impossible to concurrently evacuate around 1 million people living within a 30-km radius of the plant, which is more than 30 years old, in the event of an emergency.

There were about 140,000 people living within a 30-km radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant.

“As a nuclear plant-hosting municipality, we have depended on it in terms of finance and employment, but I have determined we don’t need it anymore,” Murakami said.

A campaign to decommission the Japan Atomic Power Co.-operated Tokai No. 2 station, located just 110 km from Tokyo, has already gathered and submitted 170,000 signatures to the Ibaraki Prefectural Government.

Helping to lead the petition drive was Kazumasa Aizawa, who four months after the criticality accident became the Tokai assembly’s first nuclear foe.

“I support the stance of Mayor Murakami, as he clearly seeks denuclearization,” Aizawa said. “He must have taken the Fukushima nuclear crisis quite seriously.”

Aizawa, who joined a group of local antinuclear assembly members that was launched in May last year, also said: “I hope our federation will be able to back up the antinuclear mayors’ group to achieve denuclearization.”

Murakami is now planning to use the existing nuclear science resources in Tokai to promote denuclearization.

“Rather than expanding nuclear energy, we have to use our resources to tackle the current nuclear power-related issues, including reactor decommissioning and nuclear waste disposal,” he said.

“I once asked my father why Japan entered World War II and why it could not prevent the war,” he said. “We will be accused by the coming generations in the same manner” if the use of nuclear power continues.