In 2007, an earthquake near the world’s largest nuke plant (TEPCO Kashiwazaki Kariwa Plant in Niigata) caused a fire outside one of the buildings on site creating much angst among the locals. It wasn’t surprising that after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that Niigatans weren’t exactly wanting this plant turned back on. Last Sunday, the Niigata gubernatorial election put PM Abe’s nuclear restart plans on the back burner with 5th time lucky Ryuichi Yoneyama winning over the LDP by forming an alliance with the Communists and two other minor parties with an agenda pushing for a ban on restarts.
TEPCO has argued that getting Kashiwazaki Kariwa back on song would give them a Y10bn monthly boost to profitability. This is the rub. Nuke is Japan’s cheapest form of energy.
I recall a visit to Niigata earlier this year. I read the front cover of the local Niigata Nippo newspaper which discussed what the likely economic and social impacts would be if Kashiwazaki Kariwa suffered a similar fate to Fukushima.
As to Niigata itself, it is the prefecture with the 4th highest rate of suicides per capita in Japan. Niigata’s population has grown only 33.7% since 1920 putting it in the bottom 10 prefectures in Japan. 26% of the population is north of 65yo. Its GDP/capita is below the national average at Y2.7mn/capita vs national average of Y3mn. While the concerns are real for citizens worried about nuclear power, the state of the prefecture is at risk from further slowdown.
The Japan Times reported that Kotaro Nagai who operates a guest house in Kagoshima Prefecture, home to the Sendai nuclear plant said the financial boon for hosting reactors is the key factor behind his support for restarts.“There are many people who have benefited financially from nuclear power plants…A restart is a matter of life and death for us.”
Niigata employs 1.03mn people out of 1.22mn labour force which is around 43% of the Niigatan population. Manufactured product shipment value by major manufacturing industries: 16.0% for food products, 12.6% for chemical products, 11.3% for metallic products, 6.8% for electronic components and devices, 6.6% for production machinery.
Sadly the amount of secrecy and mistrust over Fukushima has left many paranoid about the truth. Without access to stable and low cost power, Japanese businesses become less competitive. Meanwhile Japanese citizens fund around $100bn in a ‘special’ disaster income taxes every year.