Japan Anti-Nuclear Candidate Loses Governor Race, Changes Debate

Renewable energy advocate Tetsunari Iida lost the race for Yamaguchi governor yesterday though his office said he forced a change in the debate that made his opponent come out against building a nuclear plant in the area.

The new governor -- Shigetaro Yamamoto, a former bureaucrat at the land and transport ministry -- said he would suspend plans by Chugoku Electric Power Co. to build the Kaminoseki atomic plant. Iida ran on scrapping the plan.

“Yamamoto changed his opinion on the Kaminoseki project after Iida entered the election,” Kaoru Matsuda, a spokesman for Iida’s election office, said by phone today. “Calling for a suspension is convenient” as he can lift it later, Matsuda said. An official at Yamamoto’s election office who declined to be named denied he shifted views during the campaign.

The election took place as tens of thousands of people in Tokyo surrounded the Diet building to protest Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s decision to restart two reactors closed for safety checks after the Fukushima disaster. Months of anti-nuclear rallies and marches in the capital have yet to translate into political change in rural regions that depend on the power plants for investment and jobs.

Second Loss

Iida’s loss is the second this month for governor candidates running on an anti-nuclear ticket. On July 8, Yuichiro Ito, 64, won re-election as governor in the south-western prefecture of Kagoshima against a challenger who opposed restarting Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s atomic plant.

Ito, who won almost two-thirds of the votes cast, supports the restart of two reactors at the company’s Sendai station and a freeze on plans to build a third one. His election was the first since Noda authorized the restart of two Kansai Electric Power Co. reactors northeast of Osaka.

Japan is in the midst of drawing up a new energy policy and is polling the public’s views on atomic power after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami last year caused meltdowns and radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station. Around 160,000 people were forced to evacuate in Fukushima, areas of which will be uninhabitable for decades due to radiation poisoning.

The country is presenting three scenarios to the public of proposed future energy supply: No nuclear, 15 percent nuclear and 20 percent to 25 percent nuclear. Before Fukushima, Japan got about 30 percent of its electricity from atomic power.

Newspaper surveys and other polls indicate conflicted views among the public as reflected in the anti-nuclear rallies versus voting patterns.

Poll Patterns

The Nikkei business newspaper today said 49 percent of respondents support the restart of nuclear plants at the “minimum level.” The newspaper didn’t define what that level is. Another 27 percent said all of Japan’s 50 operational reactors should be shut down, according to the poll that had 926 responses from 1,437 households with voters, according to the newspaper.

At hearings by the government to gauge opinion on Japan’s energy policy, around 70 percent support ending nuclear-power generation by 2030, according to Asahi newspaper calculation.

The government held meetings in Hiroshima and Naha yesterday, the seventh and eight hearings in which members of the public debate what proportion of the nation’s energy should be nuclear-generated.

Eleven percent of the 1,253 people to take part in the meetings so far said atomic power should make up 15 percent of the nation’s energy mix, with 17 percent of people favoring 20-25 percent, according to the Asahi.

The government will take results of the hearings into account in compiling its energy policy. Final hearings will take place in Fukushima on Aug. 1, and Takamatsu and Fukuoka on Aug. 4, the report said.

In the Yamaguchi governor race yesterday, Yamamoto received 252,461 votes, Iida 185,654, according to the prefecture’s election administration commission. The other two candidates Tsutomu Takamura and Shigeyuki Miwa received 55,418 and 37,150 votes respectively, the commission said on its website.

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