Nuclear foe Ryuichi Yoneyama wins Niigata gubernatorial poll, threatening Tepco reactor restart hopes
NIIGATA – An anti-nuclear candidate won Niigata’s gubernatorial election Sunday, dealing a potential blow to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s attempts to restart the world’s biggest atomic power station.
Ryuichi Yoneyama, 49, a doctor-lawyer who has never held office and was backed mostly by left-wing parties, won the race for governor, an election dominated by concerns over the future of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station and nuclear safety more than five years after the Fukushima catastrophe of March 2011.
Final results show Yoneyama beat former Nagaoka Mayor Tamio Mori, 67, who was backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party.
Yoneyama gathered more than 528,000 votes, about 60,000 more than Mori. Voter turnout was 53.05 percent, up significantly from the 43.95 percent in the previous gubernatorial poll, held in 2012.
“It’s really regrettable. We will take the judgment of voters very seriously,”said Keiji Furuya, a Lower House member who served as head of Mori’s election campaign office.
Yoneyama promised to continue the policy of the departing governor, who had long thwarted the ambitions of Tepco, the company supplying about a third of Japan’s electricity, to restart the plant.
Reviving the seven-reactor giant, with capacity of 8 gigawatts, is key to saving the utility, which was battered by the Fukushima explosions and meltdowns, and then the repeated admissions of coverups and safety lapses after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Tepco is vital to Abe’s energy policy, which relies on rebooting more of the reactors that once provided about 30 percent of the nation’s electricity needs.
Anti-nuclear novice wins Japan election, blow to nuclear restarts
An anti-nuclear candidate won an upset victory in a Japanese regional election on Sunday, a blow to Tokyo Electric Power’s attempts to restart the world’s biggest atomic power station and a challenge to the government’s energy policy.
Ryuichi Yoneyama, 49, a doctor-lawyer who has never held office and is backed mostly by left-wing parties, won the race for governor of Niigata north of Tokyo, Japanese media projected, in a vote dominated by concerns over the future of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station and nuclear safety more than five years after the Fukushima catastrophe of March 2011.
“As I have promised all of you, under current circumstances where we can’t protect your lives and your way of life, I declare clearly that I can’t approve a restart,” Yoneyama told supporters at his campaign headquarters.
Cheers of “Banzai!” erupted as media began projecting him the winner over former mayor Tamio Mori, 67, backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and initially favored for an easy victory.
Yoneyama, who had run unsuccessfully for office four times, promised to continue the policy of the outgoing governor who had long thwarted the ambitions of Tepco, as the company supplying about a third of Japan’s electricity is known, to restart the plant.
Reviving the seven-reactor giant, with capacity of 8 gigawatts, is key to saving the utility, which was brought low by the Fukushima explosions and meltdowns, and then the repeated admissions of cover-ups and safety lapses after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
“The talk was of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, but I think the result will affect nuclear restarts across the country,” said Shigeaki Koga, a former trade and industry ministry official turned critic of nuclear restarts and the Abe administration.
Koga told Reuters it was important that Yoneyama join forces with another newly elected governor skeptical of nuclear restarts, Satoshi Mitazono of Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan. “Without strong support from others, it won’t be easy to take on Tepco,” he said.
Tepco spokesman Tatsuhiro Yamagishi said the company couldn’t comment on the choice of Niigata governor but respected the vote and would strive to apply the lessons of the Fukushima disaster to its management of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.
Several reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa have been out of action since an earthquake in 2007 caused radiation leaks and fires in a disaster that prefigured the Fukushima calamity and Tepco’s bungled response.
Yoneyama, who has worked as a radiological researcher, said on the campaign trail that Tepco didn’t have the means to prevent Niigata children from getting thyroid cancer in a nuclear accident, as he said had happened in Fukushima. He said the company didn’t have a solid evacuation plan.
The LDP’s Mori, meanwhile, was forced to tone down his support for restarting the plant as the race tightened, media said, insisting safety was the top priority for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, while promoting the use of natural gas and solar power in Niigata.
Yoneyama, backed by opposition, wins in Niigata
NIIGATA–Ryuichi Yoneyama, a doctor backed by the opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, was set to win the Niigata gubernatorial election on Oct. 16, defeating three independent rookie candidates, including Tamio Mori, who was supported by the ruling coalition.
The main issue of the election was Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plan to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the prefecture, the world’s largest facility. The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety inspections of the offline reactors are in their final stages.
Yoneyama, 49, was also an independent rookie. He has expressed his intention to continue the stance of Governor Hirohiko Izumida, saying that he would not approve the restart of the reactors unless the 2011 disaster at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 plant is fully scrutinized. In addition, he called for a workable evacuation plan to secure the safety of local residents in the event of a serious accident.
Izumida, who is in his third term as Niigata governor, didn’t seek re-election.
Mori, 67, was backed by the the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito. Although the LDP promotes nuclear energy, Mori showed cautiousness during the campaign, saying that he would say no to a restart if the prefectural government finds a problem with it even after the NRA gives the green light to TEPCO.