– Anti-nuclear candidates win in Niigata, Kagoshima prefectures
– Three gubernatorial races next year in regions facing restarts
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambition to restart the country’s fleet of nuclear reactors may face further challenges from local elections.
The victory of an anti-nuclear gubernatorial candidate in the central prefecture of Niigata on Sunday, following a similar win in the southern Kagoshima region earlier this year, is complicating efforts by the country’s ruling party to revive Japan’s nuclear fleet. There will be at least three such elections next year in areas where utilities are vying to restart reactors.
“Even as the Abe administration remains committed to including nuclear power as part of Japan’s energy mix, implementing this vision will require overcoming ever-more-dogged resistance from local communities and their representatives,” Tobias Harris, a vice president with Teneo Intelligence in Washington D.C., said in a note Monday. “The restart process will continue to proceed unevenly at best.”
Almost all the country’s reactors remain shut because of new safety regulations and public opposition following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Only 2 of Japan’s 42 operable reactors are producing power commercially as of Oct. 6, when Kyushu Electric Power Co. shut its Sendai No. 1 unit for maintenance.
Sendai’s return to service may be delayed due to the recently elected Kagoshima governor’s strong opposition to its operation. Local government approval — including endorsement from the governor — is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before returning plants to service.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. fell the most in almost four months on Monday after Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor of Niigata over the weekend. Yoneyama won’t support restarting the prefecture’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant without a deeper review of the Fukushima meltdown and Niigata’s current evacuation measures.
Elections will be watched closely as support from local governments are crucial to get more nuclear reactors back online, according to Syusaku Nishikawa, an analyst at Daiwa Securities Co. About 57 percent of the Japanese public oppose restarts, according to an Asahi newspaper poll earlier this month. Lawsuits have also threatened reactor operations.
Public opposition and the slow pace of returning reactors will be a challenge to Abe’s goal of having nuclear power provide at least 20 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030, Harris said.
Gubernatorial races are held within about 30 days of when the current term ends, which will happen in 2017 in the following prefectures, according to the local-government websites and data compiled by Bloomberg:
Chubu Electric Power Co.’s only nuclear power plant is in Shizuoka prefecture, where two of the Hamaoka facility’s units are under review by the nation’s regulator. The current governor, Heita Kawakatsu, said Monday the issue of nuclear restarts should be thoroughly debated during the election, according to Chunichi newspaper. He said in May the prefecture should hold a public referendum on whether the reactors restart, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
While an exact date for the election hasn’t been decided, it will likely occur as early as June, according to the prefecture’s administrative office. Chubu Electric declined to comment on next year’s gubernatorial race and the current governor’s stance. The governor’s office wasn’t immediately available to comment.
Tohoku Electric Power Co. asked the national nuclear regulator to review the safety of the No. 2 reactor at its Onagawa nuclear plant in 2013. Yoshihiro Murai, governor of Miyagi prefecture since 2005 and not affiliated with any party, will not take a position on the restart until after the review, according to an official from the prefecture’s nuclear safety policy division. Tohoku Electric declined to comment.
Ibaraki prefecture is in a similar position as Miyagi.
Japan Atomic Power Co. asked for a federal safety review in 2014 of its Tokai Dai-Ni plant. Politically-independent Masaru Hashimoto, governor since 1993, said in an NHK interview earlier this year he’ll make a decision on the restart after the review is complete. Japan Atomic declined to comment. The governor’s office wasn’t immediately available to comment.