Incumbent Haruo Kataoka, who is in favor of a preliminary survey for hosting a long-term underground nuclear waste storage facility, was re-elected as mayor of a seaside town in western Hokkaido, defeating a candidate opposed to the installation.

Kataoka, 72, won against Yoshiki Echizenya, 70, who had said he would cancel the application if elected, derailing the process. Voter turnout was 84.07%, reflecting the high voter interest. Kataoka garnered 1,135 votes against 900 votes for Echizenya.

"It was a close race," said Kataoka late Tuesday. "I would like to continue learning about nuclear waste even further, discussing it with the people. I don't think I was given a mandate for the survey from winning the election."

If all technical and political hurdles are cleared and the facility is built — a process that will likely take decades — nuclear waste from Japan’s nuclear reactors would be transported to Suttsu and stored for up to 100,000 years.

In October 2020, Kataoka applied for the first stage of the survey, which is conducted by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan. The research began the following month.

The organization will examine research papers and geological data for two years, during which time Suttsu will receive a grant of up to ¥2 billion. It was the promise of such subsidies, Kataoka said, that led him to decide to apply for the site.

But his decision deeply divided the town of about 2,800 people, which is located within sight of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear power station across the bay.

The Suttsu race comes just five days before the Lower House election and less than a week after the central government finalized its energy policy, which calls for nuclear power to provide 20% to 22% of the nation’s electricity by 2030. That will require the restart of more nuclear reactors, creating more nuclear waste that will eventually have to be dealt with.

It was the first time in two decades that a mayoral election was held in Suttsu. Since he was first elected mayor in 2001, Kataoka ran unopposed in four elections. Tuesday’s result will allow him to serve his sixth term.

Information from Kyodo added

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