April 23, 2007 / 12:05 PM / 11 years ago

Japan town dumps mayor - and nuclear waste site

TOKYO (Reuters) - Residents in a small western Japan town ousted the mayor in a weekend election, aborting his attempt to get millions of dollars from the central government by volunteering his town as a nuclear waste dump site.

The vote by Toyo, which has about 3,400 residents in Kochi prefecture, will affect the country’s plan to start operating a nuclear disposal facility in 2033-2038, Takao Kitabata, Japan’s Vice Trade Minister, told reporters on Monday.

“This matter related to Toyo was quite disappointing, but we respect the result, which reflected the will of residents,” he said, but added: “There will be an impact on our country’s nuclear power policy.”

Japan has 55 nuclear power units and plans to build more plants. But the country has no place to dump nuclear waste.

In Sunday’s mayoral race, Yasutaro Sawayama won with 1,821 votes versus 761 for the former mayor, Yasuoki Tashima. About 90 percent of the population turned out to vote.

Tashima, 64, resigned earlier this month and called for the vote to seek an agreement to house a nuclear disposal site.

In January, Tashima, the mayor of Toyo since 1997, applied to house the disposal site without consulting city council members or support from residents.

He was aiming to get a 1 billion yen ($8.42 million) government grant to conduct a two-year study of the suitability of Toyo as a nuclear disposal site, and potentially more money when construction started.

The town immediately told the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO) that Toyo would withdraw its application, a local official said.

Government-backed Numo will run a nuclear disposal site, whenever it is built.

No other town or city has applied to house the site since the central government started seeking volunteers in 2003.

Resource-poor Japan depends on nuclear energy for 30 percent of its electricity supplies and has the world’s third-largest nuclear power generation capacity after the United States and France.

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