Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency
According to Martin Fackler and Norimitsu Onish writing in the May 30, 2011 New York Times:

When the Shimane nuclear plant was first proposed here more than 40 years ago, this rural port town put up such fierce resistance that the plant’s would-be operator, Chugoku Electric, almost scrapped the project. Angry fishermen vowed to defend areas where they had fished and harvested seaweed for generations.

Two decades later, when Chugoku Electric was considering whether to expand the plant with a third reactor, Kashima once again swung into action: this time, to rally in favor. Prodded by the local fishing cooperative, the town assembly voted 15 to 2 to make a public appeal for construction of the $4 billion reactor.

Kashima’s reversal is a common story in Japan, and one that helps explain what is, so far, this nation’s unwavering pursuit of nuclear power: a lack of widespread grass-roots opposition in the communities around its 54 nuclear reactors. This has held true even after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami generated a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi station.... So far, it has spurred only muted public questioning in towns like this.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has, at least temporarily, shelved plans to expand Japan’s use of nuclear power — plans promoted by the country’s powerful nuclear establishment. Communities appear willing to fight fiercely for nuclear power, despite concerns about safety that many residents refrain from voicing publicly.

To understand Kashima’s about-face, one need look no further than the Fukada Sports Park, which serves the 7,500 mostly older residents here with a baseball diamond, lighted tennis courts, a soccer field and a $35 million gymnasium with indoor pool and Olympic-size volleyball arena. The gym is just one of several big public works projects paid for with the hundreds of millions of dollars this community is receiving for accepting the No. 3 reactor, which is still under construction.

... In 2009 alone, Tokyo gave $1.15 billion for public works projects to communities that have electric plants, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Experts say the majority of that money goes to communities near nuclear plants.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg, experts say, as the communities also receive a host of subsidies, property and income tax revenues, compensation to individuals and even “anonymous” donations to local treasuries that are widely believed to come from plant operators.

... The aid has enriched rural communities that were rapidly losing jobs and people to the cities.
In a process that critics have likened to drug addiction, the flow of easy money and higher-paying jobs quickly replaces the communities’ original economic basis, usually farming or fishing.
Tsuneyoshi Adachi, a 63-year-old fisherman, joined the huge protests in the 1970s and 1980s against the plant’s No. 2 reactor. He said many fishermen were angry then because chlorine from the pumps of the plant’s No. 1 reactor, which began operating in 1974, was killing seaweed and fish in local fishing grounds.

However, Mr. Adachi said, once compensation payments from the No. 2 reactor began to flow in, neighbors began to give him cold looks and then ignore him. By the time the No. 3 reactor was proposed in the early 1990s, no one, including Mr. Adachi, was willing to speak out against the plant.
The No. 3 reactor alone brought the town some $90 million in public works money, and the promise of another $690 million in property tax revenues spread over more than 15 years once the reactor becomes operational next year.

In the 1990s, property taxes from the No. 2 reactor supplied as much as three-quarters of town tax revenues. The fact that the revenues were going to decline eventually was one factor that drove the town to seek the No. 3 reactor, said the mayor at the time, Zentaro Aoyama.

Mr. Aoyama admitted that the Fukushima accident had frightened many people here. Even so, he said, the community had no regrets about accepting the Shimane plant, which he said had raised living standards and prevented the depopulation that has hollowed out much of rural Japan.
While the plants provide power mostly to distant urban areas, they were built in isolated, impoverished rural areas.

Kazuyoshi Nakamura, 84, recalls how difficult life was as a child in Kataku, a tiny fishing hamlet ...

At first local fishermen adamantly refused to give up rights to the seaweed and fishing grounds near the plant.... They eventually accepted compensation payments that have totaled up to $600,000 for each fisherman.

Today, the dirt-floor huts of Mr. Nakamura’s childhood have been replaced by oversize homes with driveways, and a tunnel has made central Kashima a five-minute drive away.... Only about 30 aging residents still make a living from fishing.
Much of this flow of cash was the product of the Three Power Source Development Laws, a sophisticated system of government subsidies created in 1974....

The law required all Japanese power consumers to pay, as part of their utility bills, a tax that was funneled to communities with nuclear plants.
Critics point to the case of Futaba, the town that includes Fukushima Daiichi’s No. 5 and No. 6 reactors, which began operating in 1978 and 1979, respectively.

According to Professor Shimizu of Fukushima University, Fukushima Daiichi and the nearby Fukushima Daini plants directly or indirectly employed some 11,000 people in communities that include Futaba — or about one person in every two households. Since 1974, communities in Fukushima Prefecture have received about $3.3 billion in subsidies for its electrical plants, most of it for the two nuclear power facilities, Mr. Shimizu said.

Despite these huge subsidies, most given in the 1970s, Futaba recently began to experience budget problems. As they did in Kashima, the subsidies dwindled along with other revenues related to the nuclear plant, including property taxes. By 2007, Futaba was one of the most fiscally troubled towns in Japan and nearly went bankrupt. Town officials blamed the upkeep costs of the public facilities built in the early days of flush subsidies and poor management stemming from the belief that the subsidies would remain generous.
The peninsula’s first reactor went online in 2005, two are under construction, and two more are still being planned. Japan is also building massive nuclear waste disposal and reprocessing facilities there....

The New York Times
May 30, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment