| TOKYO, April 8
TOKYO, April 8 Japan's anti-nuclear movement,
small and ignored by the general public, is gaining traction as
a crisis at a tsunami-stricken nuclear power plant drags on for
weeks with no clear end in sight.
The growing debate will make it difficult for the government
to meet its target securing 50 percent of national electricty
from nuclear power by 2030, up from 30 percent now.
The public has watched nervously as engineers battle
radiation leaks, hydrogen explosions and overheating fuel rods
at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on the northeast coast after it
was hit by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
With updates on the world's worst nuclear disaster since
Chernobyl in 1986 now daily fare on TV, more Japanese are
questioning the safety of the quake-prone country's 54 nuclear
reactors and the government's plans to build more.
"As a person who has had a pro-nuclear stance, I'm totally
at a loss at the moment whether we should promote Japan's
nuclear policy," Masayoshi Yoshino, an MP from Fukushima
prefecture where the Daiichi plant is located, told a news
conference this week.
"I know in my mind that I should decide based on the results
of a thorough investigation into what has happened. But my
instinct tells me 'no more nuclear plants'," said Yoshino, of
the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
In Yamaguchi prefecture, western Japan, anti-nuclear groups
claimed a small victory last month after work to build a new
nuclear power plant in the city of Kaminoseki was suspended,
prompted by concern from local authorities. [ID:nTKZ006840]
"The mood has changed," said Tomiko Takeshige, an activist
there fighting against plans for Chugoku Electric Power Co
to start the plant's operations in 2018.
"Mayors and local assembly members who have repeated the
government line that these plants are safe have become silent.
Ordinary people too, now come to us to say that we were right,
that nuclear power plants are dangerous."
In resource-poor Japan, the government has long emphasised
the importance of nuclear power and prided itself on its nuclear
expertise. In an energy plan unveiled last year, it aimed to
build at least 14 new reactors by 2030.
Voters have also generally supported the role of nuclear
energy in a country where nuclear reactors provide some 30
percent of electricity and have been counted on to help meet an
international pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
But that was before the Fukushima crisis, which has forced
tens of thousands of residents to evacuate from the plant's
vicinity and sparked fears of radioactive contamination in
water, fish and vegetables. [ID:nL3E7F72Y]
BODY SAYS 'NO'
The latest disaster at first triggered little mainstream
debate over nuclear policy, but Prime Minister Naoto Kan said
last week that the plan for Japan to build more nuclear reactors
may need to be reviewed.
In Tokyo, nuclear power policy has featured prominently in
debates ahead of a gubernatorial election on Sunday.
"We must review and eventually reduce dependence on nuclear
power," candidate Hideo Higashikokubaru said this week.
He singled out the Hamaoka nuclear power plant 200 km (124
miles) southwest of Tokyo, located near the Tokai region where
geologists have predicted a large quake. "All possibilities
including a possible closure should be reviewed," he said.
But for all the concerns over nuclear safety, Japan still
looks a long way from a mass anti-nuclear movement.
Many rural towns are dependent on subsidies and donations
doled out by the government and companies to host nuclear
Kunihiro Uno, a candidate trying to oust a pro-nuclear
incumbent in an election for governor of Fukui prefecture, said
some voters had approached him in tears to shut down reactors
but others worried about the fallout on the local finances.
With 14 reactors, Fukui, in the country's west, has the most
number of reactors than any other prefecture in Japan. For
years, the prefecture has fed off what Uno calls "nuclear drugs"
-- subsidies that fund new schools, sports facilities and roads.
"People say nuclear power plants are scary and want to stop
building new ones but there's not much support yet to stop
depending on the plants for business, public funding and energy
needs," he said in a telephone interview ahead of the election
"Deep down, people know it's better not to have nuclear
plants but they think about jobs and other factors, and it's
considered a necessary evil."
(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Linda Sieg, editing
by Jonathan Thatcher)