12 Juillet 2016
July 11, 2016
Ex-journalist Satoshi Mitazono defeats incumbent Yuichiro Ito
By MAYUMI NEGISHI
Updated July 11, 2016 8:28 a.m. ET
TOKYO—The election Sunday of an antinuclear governor in the only Japanese prefecture with an operating nuclear power plant poses another risk to the government’s efforts to restart idled nuclear plants.
Former journalist Satoshi Mitazono defeated incumbent Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito largely by pledging to suspend operations at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant, which is located in the southern prefecture.
Mr. Mitazono’s victory underscores the strength of antinuclear sentiment in the country, even as Japanese companies such as Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. win orders to build plants abroad in countries searching for a reliable, emissions-free source of power.
Kyushu Electric shares tumbled 7.5% to a three-year low Monday.
The Japanese public remains skeptical about the safety of nuclear power after the 2011 triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, with many parents still screening food for radiation. Communities hosting the plants are resisting plans to restart reactors.
The Japanese government aims to revive at least 32 of the 54 reactors it shut down following the Fukushima disaster, and plans for nuclear power to account for about a fifth of the nation’s total electricity generation by 2030. It also hopes to double the contribution from renewable energy to meet a goal of cutting the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by about a quarter from 2013 levels.
Nuclear power is also seen by many analysts and policy makers as key to Japan’s energy security. The country is forced to import nearly all of its fossil fuel.
“Relying on oil and gas is not sustainable, with huge costs to people’s health and the economy, and serious consequences for the environment,” said Hooman Peimani, research fellow at the Tokyo-based Asia Pacific Energy Research Centre.
Yet the government’s goals for nuclear look increasingly ambitious as local communities fight back. In March, a district court in Fukui prefecture issued an injunction halting two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear plant just months after they had been restarted. The court said Kansai Electric had failed to show the public that the reactors were safe, despite having met stricter safety standards established after the Fukushima accident.
The only other nuclear plant now scheduled to be restarted is Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s plant in Ikata, in southern Ehime prefecture. The restart is slated for August.
“The people are worried,” Mr. Mitazono said in a TV interview shortly after the election Sunday night. “We will not operate nuclear reactors when their safety cannot be guaranteed.”
The fight against nuclear at home has Japanese plant operators seeking business overseas—particularly in China and India. Hitachi last week said it would work with plant operator Japan Atomic Power to build and run nuclear plants in the U.K.
Toshiba, through U.S. unit Westinghouse Electric, hopes to secure contracts to build 45 nuclear reactors by 2030. Westinghouse is already building four reactors each in the U.S. and China. Toshiba said last week that it is eyeing 12 more deals in India, three in the U.K., and a total of five in the U.S. and Turkey.
Having nuclear plants idled is costly for Japan’s utilities, which are competing in a newly deregulated retail market. Restarting the Sendai plant has enabled Kyushu Electric to cut its imports and consumption of fossil fuels, which helped it log a profit in the year ended in March.
Mizuho Securities Co. analyst Norimasa Shinya said in a note to clients Monday that if the Sendai plant were to remain shut after planned maintenance checks later this year, Kyushu Electric’s recurring profit would fall by nearly a third, or about 18 billion yen ($176 million), in the current business year.
Kyushu Electric declined to comment on the impact of a possible shutdown at Sendai. “We have not been told to halt operations, nor do we know when, if, or how such a request would be made,” a spokesman said. “Voters voted on a wide array of issues, and not just on nuclear.”
Write to Mayumi Negishi at firstname.lastname@example.org