Photo/IllutrationThe area where construction of a possible final disposal site for highly radioactive nuclear waste was considered in Minami-Osumi, Kagoshima Prefecture, on Nov. 29. (Hiraku Toda)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MINAMI-OSUMI, Kagoshima Prefecture--The mayor here received 8 million yen ($71,500) in unreported “loans” but returned the money apparently after lenders complained he wasn’t following through on promises to bring a nuclear waste disposal site to the town.

Toshihiko Morita, 59, told a news conference on Dec. 20 that he accepted a total of 10 million yen from four people over two occasions before the mayoral election in April 2009.

But he emphasized that the money was “personal loans” for his business and had nothing to do with his political activities.

Three of the four individuals who provided the money told The Asahi Shimbun that Morita had asked them for election expenses.

The three--two heavyweights in the town and a director at a Tokyo trading house with ties to the nuclear industry--also said they wanted Morita to promote Minami-Osumi as a host of a final disposal site for nuclear waste, a potentially lucrative project that has been shunned around Japan.

In May 2009, shortly after he was elected mayor, Morita wrote a letter of proxy saying he would give the Tokyo director all the authority needed to lobby and negotiate with relevant parties to bring a final disposal site to the town.

Morita denied any relation between the money he received and the letter of proxy.

The three individuals said that in October 2017, they demanded Morita return their money, citing no progress in courting the nuclear waste facility.

The following month, Morita repaid the 8 million yen.

It was not clear if the mayor repaid the additional 2 million yen, nor the identity of the person who provided that money.

According to sources familiar with the matter, the three officials gave 3 million yen to Morita’s side in January 2009 and 5 million yen on April 3 the same year, right before the official mayoral election campaign kicked off.

Although Morita said the 8 million yen was a personal loan, he did not pay interest or list the money in his official financial statements.

An official in charge of Morita’s campaign told The Asahi Shimbun that the money was accepted as a “campaign fund.” But Morita’s election campaign income and expenditure report did not list the sum, a possible violation of the Public Offices Election Law.

That campaign report was destroyed after the expiration of the three-year preservation period set by the town.

Morita said he will correct the reports “if there are flaws.”

In 2012, the year after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the Minami-Osumi town assembly unanimously adopted an ordinance rejecting the disposal of nuclear waste and nuclear facilities in its jurisdiction.

In April 2013, Morita was re-elected on a campaign promise not to allow such facilities in the town.

However, the three officials said that Morita privately told them until April 2017, when he was elected for a third time, to wait a bit longer because he still planned to bring the disposal site to the town.

The central government since 2002 has been looking for municipalities to host the final disposal sites for highly radioactive waste produced by dozens of nuclear power plants across the country.

But none has volunteered despite the financial incentives. If a local government allows a siting study as a prospective site, it will be offered 1 billion yen a year for the study and 2 billion yen a year for a boring and additional surveys.

In a report released in July 2017, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the nuclear industry, described potential candidate sites across the country based on geological and other factors. The report said most of the land in Minami-Osumi is “favorable” as a location for a dumping ground.

The town, with a population of nearly 7,300 on the southern tip of the main island of Kyushu, considered hosting a final disposal site in 2007, when Morita’s predecessor was in office.

Morita said he will continue to oppose the hosting of the radioactive waste disposal site.