Japan Says It Needs Nuclear Power. Can Host Towns Ever Trust It Again?

“Honestly, I was scared,” she said.

Business leaders and workers whose livelihoods depend on the factory warn that if it doesn’t reopen, the area will deteriorate, as many rural Japanese communities are experiencing steep population refuse. About 5,500 people are currently working to keep the plant idle, although employment is likely to increase if it reopens.

Many local residents work in the factory or know friends and family who do. “I think there are more people who understand the need for the plant,” said Masaaki Komuro, managing director of Niigata Kankyo Service, an on-site maintenance contractor.

Public opinion polls present a more tumultuous picture. According to a 2020 survey by the city of Kashiwazaki, nearly 20% of residents want to shut down the plant immediately. About 40% will accept temporary operation of some reactors, but ultimately want the plant closed. According to a 2021 survey by Niigata Nippo, a local newspaper, just over half of the prefecture’s residents oppose nuclear restart.

Public prudence will be tested in this month’s gubernatorial election in Niigata Prefecture. The current governor, Hideyo Hanazumi, 63, is backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic party but remains vague about his intention to restart. His challenger, Naomi Katagiri, a 72-year-old architect, promises to block the resumption of activities in Kashiwazaki and Kariwa.

The stakes are high because of an unwritten government policy that requires local political leaders to approve a nuclear restart. The mayor of Kariwa, Hiroo Shinada, 65, is a staunch supporter, while the mayor of Kashiwazaki, Masahiro Sakurai, 60, is investing in wind energy but will support the temporary operations of some. reactor.

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