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HOME  > Past issues  > 2011 August 3 - 16  > Local residents killed NPP plan after 8 year struggle
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2011 August 3 - 16 [NUCLEAR CRISIS]

Local residents killed NPP plan after 8 year struggle

August 5, 2011
The residents of former Kubokawa Town in Kochi Prefecture, now a part of Shimanto Town formed by the merger of two towns and a village in 2006, are still proud of their arduous struggle against a planned nuclear power plant in 1980s.

Kubokawa was a small agricultural and forestry town with a beautiful white sand beach facing the Pacific Ocean, located approximately 270 km southeast from Osaka City. The residents fought and won an 8 year struggle to stop the plan to construct a nuclear power plant by recalling a pro-nuclear plant town mayor.

“I was one of a few conservatives who was against the construction plan,” recalled Miyaji Shoichi, presently the chair of the Shimanto Town Assembly. “I used to make speeches around the town using a loudspeaker opposing the planned facilities. Now, everybody thanks me for my efforts to help stop it.”

In October 1980, the then Kubokawa mayor declared his intention to invite Shikoku Electric Power Corporation to set up a nuclear power plant in the town, asking the utility to conduct a feasibility study. The then governor of Kochi Prefecture, a politician from the nuclear power promoting Liberal Democratic Party, also made a concerted effort with the town mayor to bring a nuclear power plant to Kubokawa.

The residents responded swiftly. Regardless of their political affiliations, they set up an organization called “Association for a Better Hometown” with a former head of the local agricultural cooperatives as its chairperson. The goals of this association were not only stopping the construction plan of a nuclear power plant but also building a prosperous town based on primary industries and bringing about a democratic reform of the town administration.

The first task the group embarked on was to recall the pro-nuclear power plant mayor. While canvassing among the residents, they frequently showed the recorded video of a TV program on the Three Mile Island accident, organizing discussions on the future of the town without having to rely on the introduction of a nuclear power plant.

Pressure from the government

The forces promoting nuclear power, including the government and the then ruling LDP, tried to intervene in the recall movement as it gained momentum.

On February 28, 1981, in the midst of the recall campaign, the late Nakagawa Ichiro, the then head of the Science and Technology Agency, one of the government arms that engaged in promoting nuclear power, visited Kubokawa town. He made an appeal to “defend” the mayor who was, according to him, “the best mayor in Japan who volunteers his town for a nuclear power plant project.” The next day, Sakurauchi Yoshio, the then Secretary General of the LDP, came to the town leading a group of parliamentarians from the LDP and the Democratic Socialist Party. He attacked the recall movement as “out-dated.” He also promised as a carrot not to scrap a local railway line which had been slated for discontinuation of service.

In spite of such blatant pressures, a referendum on March 8th, the first in Japan to vote over a nuclear power plant construction project, ended successfully in favor of firing the mayor with the yes votes accounting for 51.99% of votes cast.

Gappa Eiichi, 67, the then town employees union president and deputy secretary general
of the Association, recollected, “The movement of our group was carried out to realize the residents’ right enshrined in the Constitution and the Local Self-government Act. “The movement was joined by a wide variety of people, including the elderly and the young. It fostered the spirit of self-determination – ‘we, the people, will decide the fate of the town,’” added Mr. Gappa, who later became a deputy mayor of Shimanto town.

However, there were many ups and downs until the project was finally jettisoned. The mayoral election held soon after the referendum ended in the reinstatement of the recalled mayor. But thanks to an increase in the number of anti-nuclear power plant members of the town assembly, and supported by the movement that had spread throughout the prefecture, the pro-nuclear power plant mayor was forced to resign in January 1988. This brought about the end of the attempt to force through the NNP plan.

Role of the local JCP

The local organization of the Japanese Communist Party was spearheading the movement. At that time, one in a hundred Kubokawa residents was a JCP member. The local news page of the daily AKAHATA carried a series of articles on the Kubokawa struggle every day. When the mayor was ousted in the referendum, a headline of the AKAHATA exclaimed it was a “Big Victory in a Small Town.”

The Shimanto Town Assembly passed last June two resolutions: one was on reducing and abolishing nuclear power plants and introducing new alternative energies; and the other was against resuming operation at the Ikata nuclear power station, Ehime prefecture, just across the town border, which burns Plutonium-Uranium mixed fuel.

For Iwai Yunosuke, this was an important milestone in the struggle since the recall movement. “The goals held up by the Association for a Better Hometown are still alive as basic policies of Shimanto Town,” said the JCP member of town assembly. “The nuclear power plant project divided the town bitterly. We have to learn from that experience and act on the motto, ‘we, the people, will decide the fate of the town.’”
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