Former fisherman Yukitoshi Watanabe maintains that resuming operation of Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant would be dangerous. In the Yoriisohama district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, as seen in this photo taken on Oct. 21, 2020, many signs protesting nuclear power have been set up by groups comprising youth in the community.

November 12, 2020

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi — While the governor of Miyagi Prefecture, where the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant is located, gave “local consent” on Nov. 11 to the restart of a reactor at the plant, those who live in the area remain anxious as local municipalities’ evacuation plans in the case of a major incident are said to be insufficient by residents and local assemblies alike.

The go-ahead to resume the operation of a reactor at Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa nuclear power station came after Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai attended a meeting with the mayors of the Miyagi prefectural town of Onagawa and city of Ishinomaki, which the plant straddles.

About 1 kilometer away from the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant is Ishinomaki’s Yoriisohama district, where residences surround a fishing harbor. Three aging signs that are set up alongside the one road that links the district to the outside world declare objections to nuclear power. They were put up by an organization of youth and others in the district.

Yukitoshi Watanabe, 80, is a former local fisherman who participated in an anti-nuclear demonstration by boat more than 40 years ago when the community wavered between hosting a nuclear power plant or not.

“Despite the incident at Daiichi Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, in 10 years we’re back to where we were. The evacuation plan is absolutely unrealistic, and escaping safely is impossible,” Watanabe said angrily.

In August of this year, the Miyagi Prefectural Government invited officials from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), the Cabinet Office, and Tohoku Electric Power Co., and held sessions for residents to inform them of safety measures and evacuation plans that would be put into place. During the question-and-answer session, Watanabe raised his hand and asked, “Are you able to keep your head held high and tell your children and grandchildren (about restarting a nuclear reactor)?”

Including his great-grandchild, who is about to turn a year old, Watanabe lives in a family of 10 people spanning four generations. Living in the Yoriisohama district, which sticks out further east into the Pacific Ocean than the nuclear power plant, there’s no way to evacuate on land except by heading in the direction of the plant. It is unclear whether the national or prefectural government will build and maintain a highly safe evacuation route, and Watanabe says, “(An evacuation) route should be a prerequisite for deciding whether to restart the nuclear plant, and it shouldn’t have to be the local community’s responsibility to build one.”

Watanabe is considering a possible evacuation by boat, if such a measure is needed. He knows the dangers of the ocean, but he is more scared of his children and grandchildren being exposed to radiation.

“If something happens, we will have to leave this land, where our family has lived for generations, and fishing, and our home, throwing our hands up in despair. We must not leave any fears or anxieties to the future.”

(Japanese original by Nobuyuki Hyakutake, Ishinomaki Local Bureau)