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Fukushima Upper House candidates face cynical voters despite anti-nuclear platforms

JIJI

Rival candidates, both women, from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition camp for next Sunday’s House of Councilors election in Fukushima Prefecture are campaigning on platforms to eliminate nuclear power from the prefecture.

But their calls are in conflict with the national energy policy of the LDP and the positions of some opposition supporters.

With campaigning in the single-seat prefectural constituency shaping up effectively as a one-on-one race, local voters who were affected by the March 2011 nuclear accident are casting a cynical eye at the race for the July 21 election.

“I’m determined to push ahead with reconstruction following your requests,” Masako Mori, the LDP’s candidate for Fukushima, said on July 4, the opening day of the official campaign period, in the prefectural capital of Fukushima.

“I’ll do my best to achieve the goal of decommissioning all nuclear reactors in the prefecture,” said Mori, 54, vice chair of the LDP’s Headquarters for Accelerating Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also president of the LDP, gave a speech in support of Mori.

Reflecting local voter concerns over nuclear power, the LDP’s Fukushima chapter has set goals of scrapping all reactors in the prefecture and building up knowledge and expertise related to decommissioning.

In contrast to the prefectural chapter’s position, however, the Abe government’s basic energy program regards nuclear power as an important base load electric power source, while the LDP’s policy pledges for the Upper House election include efforts to reactivate nuclear reactors.

The LDP suffered losses in recent national elections in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the site of the nation’s worst-ever nuclear accident, which resulted from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Public housing for 3/11 evacuees in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture | KYODO
Public housing for 3/11 evacuees in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture | KYODO

In the 2017 House of Representatives election, an LDP candidate was defeated in Fukushima’s No. 1 constituency, which includes the prefectural capital. In the 2016 triennial Upper House poll, Mitsuhide Iwaki, the justice minister at the time, lost the election.

In their campaign speeches, both Abe and Mori admitted she is facing a tough race.

A lawmaker elected from the prefecture said, “Residents in Fukushima have pent-up emotions toward the LDP.”

Mori received the party’s endorsement as a candidate in August last year after failing to pass the first round of screenings a month earlier. Explaining the deferred approval, one party source suggested that she was ill at ease with local party members, including prefectural assembly members.

She has been helped by delays in the opposition camp’s selection of a candidate, but frustration is smoldering among her supporters, with one city assembly member grumbling that “she does not know how to greet you properly.”

Hard to differentiate

Mori’s key opponent in the three-way race is Sachiko Mizuno, 57, who is running as the opposition camp’s unified candidate.

On June 30, standing in drizzling rain in front of a department store in the city of Fukushima, Mizuno told a small crowd, “Reconstruction of Fukushima is still only half done.”

Referring to the LDP’s policy pledge, she said the government “has not presented a road map for decommissioning all reactors (in the prefecture).”

The candidacy of Mizuno was decided in April by a forum consisting of the prefectural chapters of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party for the People and the Social Democratic Party, as well as unaffiliated lawmakers elected from Fukushima and the Fukushima chapter of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo Fukushima.

After the Japanese Communist Party withdrew its candidate and decided to back Mizuno, she became the unified candidate of the opposition camp.

With Mizuno calling for a society free of nuclear power, the policy differences with the LDP are blurred. “It’s difficult to differentiate ourselves (from the LDP) in the prefecture,” a senior official in Mizuno’s campaign office said.

Within her camp, there are differing levels of enthusiasm regarding the elimination of nuclear power.

Mizuno concluded a five-point policy agreement with the members of the forum that includes the group’s nuclear goals. But Rengo Fukushima, which has under its wing the Federation of Electric Power-Related Industry Worker’s Unions of Japan, opted out, in consideration for union members who work for electric power and electrical engineering companies.

Still, Rengo Fukushima issued a recommendation for Mizuno after concluding from her policies as a whole that there was no other candidate it could support.

Still, an official with Rengo Fukushima said, “Cheering for her in street speeches and hearing her emphasis on getting rid of nuclear power leaves me confused about my feelings.”

Unenthusiastic voters

After the triple meltdown accident, the government issued an evacuation advisory to 11 municipalities around the stricken nuclear plant. Since the advisory was lifted in the eastern part of the city of Tamura in April 2014, the size of the exclusion zone has been reduced in stages.

But the advisory remains in place in the town of Futaba, as well as in parts of six municipalities, including the towns of Okuma and Namie. More than 30,000 people still live as evacuees outside the prefecture.

“The evacuation advisory has been removed, but I can’t return home,” said a woman in her 60s who lives in public housing for the displaced in the city of Fukushima. “Only a few people have returned home, and I can’t live in my hometown as most of the residents are elderly people.”

She had her house in Namie demolished as she had no prospects of returning.

In Namie, more than two years after the evacuation advisory was lifted for most of the town in March 2017, just over 1,000 people have returned. Of people who are still registered as residents of areas for which the advisory was removed, only some 7 percent have returned.

In regard to the Upper House election, the woman in public housing said in a weary voice, “Regardless of whoever wins, nothing will probably change in our situation.”