National / Politics

Nuclear policy in focus as campaign begins in Niigata governor race

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The Niigata governor’s race kicked off Thursday with the future of the prefecture’s nuclear power plants taking center stage ahead of the June 10 election. The vote is also seen as a test for how voters view the various scandals surrounding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Three candidates are running for election: Hideyo Hanazumi, 60, a former Niigata vice governor who is backed by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito; his main rival, Chikako Ikeda, 57, a former prefectural assembly member who is supported by all of the major opposition parties, and a third candidate, 40-year-old Satoshi Annaka.

The election was called following Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama’s resignation in April after he admitted to sexual relationships with several women, including a university student to whom he gave gifts and money.

Yoneyama had been resisting efforts by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and the central government to quickly restart nuclear power reactors at the utility’s Kashiwaki-Kariwa complex. In December, the plant’s No. 6 and 7 reactors had been cleared for restart by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Hanazumi’s strategy is to win voters over by promoting new transportation infrastructure projects for the prefecture. In particular, he is raising the possibility of a new Sea of Japan coast shinkansen route that, if completed, would run from Yamaguchi Prefecture up the coast, through Fukui, and eventually all the way to Hokkaido.

“On the Pacific coast of Japan, there are bullet train lines running from Hokkaido to Kagoshima, but the possibility of damage from a natural disaster is high,” Hanazumi said earlier this month in announcing his bid. “Unless there is a bullet train along the Sea of Japan coast connecting Kyushu, the Chugoku region, our region and then on to Hokkaido, there won’t be an alternate line available if disaster strikes.”

Hanazumi has also said he favors reducing reliance on nuclear power.

Ikeda, however, has put ending nuclear power, women’s issues, and support for children at the center of her campaign.

“I strongly support the idea of no nuclear power,” she said at a rally last week, adding that she wants to listen to the voices of voters on whether to restart reactors.

A telephone poll of 1,767 potential voters conducted by two private firms last week showed over 70 percent were at least somewhat opposed to restarting the Kashiwaki reactors. Over half of voters said they were not planning to vote on a candidate simply based on which political parties support them.