Japan's 'Nuclear Alley'
Conflicted Over Reactors
Fukushima Nuclear Plant
EMF Computer Protection
Magnetic Field Detector
By MARI YAMAGUCHI | January 26, 2012
OHI, Japan (AP) — International inspectors are visiting a
rugged Japanese bay so thick with reactors it is dubbed
"Nuclear Alley," where residents remain deeply conflicted as
Japan moves to restart plants idled after the Fukushima
The local economy depends heavily on the industry, and the
national government hopes that "stress tests" at idled
plants — the first of which is being reviewed this week by
the International Atomic Energy Agency — will show they are
safe enough to switch back on.
But last year's tsunami crisis in northeastern Japan with
meltdowns at three of the Fukushima reactors has fanned
opposition to the plants here in western Fukui prefecture, a
mountainous region surrounding Wakasa Bay that also relies
on fishing and tourism and where the governor has come out
strongly against nuclear power.
"We don't need another Fukushima, and we don't want to
repeat the same mistake here," said Eiichi Inoue, a
63-year-old retiree in the coastal town of Obama. "I know
they added stress tests, but what exactly are they doing?"
"I oppose restarting them," he said.
Other residents said that economic realities made the plants
indispensable, including Chikako Shimamoto, a 38-year-old
fitness instructor in Takahama, a town that hosts one of the
"We all know that we better not restart them," Shimamoto
said. "But we need jobs and we need business in this town.
"Our lives in this town depends on the nuclear power plant
and we have no choice," she said.
On Thursday, an IAEA team visited a plant in the village of
Ohi to check whether officials at operator Kansai Electric
Power Co. had correctly done the tests at two reactors. The
tests are designed to assess whether plants can withstand
earthquakes, tsunamis, loss of power or other emergencies,
and suggest changes to improve safety.
Their visit, at Japan's invitation, appeared aimed at
reassuring a skeptical public that authorities are taking
the necessary precautions before bringing nuclear plants
back on line.
Some experts are critical of the stress tests, saying they
are meaningless because they have no clear criteria.
The government idled most plants for mandatory tests and
maintenance after the Fukushima disaster. Currently, only
four of Japan's 54 reactors are operating. If no idled
plants get approval to restart, the country will be without
an operating reactor by the end of April.
Before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that led to the
Fukushima crisis, nuclear plants generated about 30 percent
of the country's electricity. To make up for the shortfall,
utilities are temporarily turning to conventional oil and
coal-fired plants, and the government has required companies
to reduce their electricity consumption.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has promised to reduce Japan's
reliance on nuclear power over time, but it still needs some
nuclear power until next-generation sources are developed.
In Fukui, 13 reactors at four complexes are clustered along
a 55-kilometer (35-mile) stretch of coast with snow capped
mountains facing the Sea of Japan. It's known as "Gempatsu
Ginza," a phrase that roughly translates to "Nuclear Alley."
Only one of the 13 reactors is still running. The rest have
been shut down for regular inspections required every 13
months. To start running again, they must pass the stress
Another hurdle will be gaining local support for the plants
to restart. While local consent is not legally required for
that to happen, authorities generally want to win local
backing and make efforts to do so.
Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, however, says he will not allow
a startup of any of the prefecture's commercial reactors.
And the city assembly in Obama — a town that briefly enjoyed
international fame when it endorsedBarack Obama in the 2008
U.S. presidential race— has submitted an appeal to the
central Tokyo government to make Japan nuclear-free.
But officials in Mihama, another town that hosts a nuclear
plant, have expressed support for the town's three reactors
also operated by Kansai Electric, also called Kepco.
Fukui is a largely rural area, traditionally focused on
fishing and farming, but it has a significant textile and
machinery industry, and boasts of being a major producer of
eye-glasses. Its nuclear power plants supply approximately
half of all the electricity used in the greater Kansai
region, which includes Osaka and Kyoto.
Several towns' fortunes are tied closely to the nuclear
Community centers and roads are paid by the government
subsidies for hosting the plants. Closing the plants not
only means losing jobs for thousands of workers, but
hardship for stores, restaurants and other service
Many of those interviewed had family members, relatives or
friends with jobs at the plants, and some refused to give
their names due to fear of repercussions.
Noda has said the final decision on restarting nuclear
plants would be political, suggesting that the government
would override any local opposition if Japan's energy needs
Naozane Sakashita, a taxi and bus driver, said his salary
had decreased "substantially" after the Ohi and other plants
"I think these idle plants should resume as soon as their
safety is confirmed," he said. "Our jobs and daily life are
more important than a disaster that occurs only once in a
Still, he said he is concerned about the safety of the
plants because his son works as a control room operator at
the Takahama plant.
"If our economy prospers without compromising our safety, of
course it would be best to live without nuclear energy," he