By SATOSHI HASEGAWA/ Staff Writer
August 15, 2022 at 07:00 JST
Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Here’s a turnup for the books. Instead of being fiercely opposed to plans to restart the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, a rapidly rising number of residents of nearby cities now embrace the project, according to surveys by the municipalities.
Opponents long outnumbered those in favor of a restart as a result of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and the towering tsunami it spawned.
But local sensibilities have undergone a sea change over recent uncertainties about the ability of electric utilities to maintain stable power supplies during peak periods such as during the blazing heat of summer and the frigid winter months.
The three cities of Kakegawa, Makinohara and Kikugawa canvass the opinions of residents annually over moves to resume operations at the facility operated by Chubu Electric Power Co. The detailed questions and answer options are different depending on municipalities.
The results of Kakegawa’s study, released July 11, show that 24 percent of respondents said the “reactors should be decommissioned” while 12 percent thought they should “be continuously suspended.” This brought the total of local residents who view a restart in negative terms at 36 percent.
However, 33 percent said the reactors “should be brought back online if their safety can be assured.”
In last year’s survey, 32 percent and 13 percent, respectively, called for the reactors’ decommissioning and continual suspension. Both figures were down this year.
The rate of support for a restart was 29 percent in the previous poll, but this time the percentage exceeded that of those in favor of decommissioning for the first time.
“More young people today have little knowledge of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which explains the higher ratio of supportive individuals,” noted Kakegawa Mayor Takashi Kubota. “The outcome was also no doubt influenced by rising energy prices and Chubu Electric’s campaign to foster greater understanding over the issue of a restart.”
Makinohara made its findings publicly available in June, revealing that 36 percent of respondents backed the plant’s restart while 32 percent opposed it. It was the first time for supporters to outnumber objectors since the surveys started in 2011.
In Makinohara’s first survey, those against had a more than 30-point advantage over the support rate. The disparity remained as high as 10 points last year, but the support ratio has now surged dramatically.
“Factors behind the trend are apparently hikes in electricity rates stemming from the war in Ukraine, the strained power supply and people’s anxiety over calls for saving electricity,” said Makinohara Mayor Kikuo Sugimoto.
Kikugawa announced in June that pro and against rates both stood at 38 percent for the first-ever such result.
Naysayers far outnumbered supporters in all the three cities in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Though the difference began to shrink in the years that followed, the disagreement ratio was still considerably higher until 2021.
The mayors of the three cities are cautious about the resumption of the reactors’ operations, and the citizen survey results have been cited as one of the reasons for their stances.
Their approach may change in the future, but municipal heads are still wary.
“The current situation, where the plan for reactor restarts has yet to gain the full approval of residents, has not changed,” Kubota said.
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