Japan’s nuclear reactor restarts anger Minami Soma mayor

Katsunobu Sakurai
Katsunobu Sakurai (Sarai Flores)

TOKYO (TR) – One video made him one of the most well-known faces of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

In the 11-minute YouTube video uploaded on March 24, 2011, mayor Katsunobu Sakurai begged for help for his city of Minami Soma, located 15 miles away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Five years later, Sakurai says his city still hasn’t fully recovered. Making matters worse, he says, is Japan’s reversion to nuclear energy: After a nationwide halt, two power companies restarted reactors in Fukui and Kagoshima prefectures beginning last year and Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which operates Fukushima Daiichi, is scheduled to bring two reactors back online in Niigata Prefecture later this year.

“As a resident of an area affected by the nuclear power plant disaster, I must express great anger at this act,” said Sakurai at a press luncheon at he Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Thursday. “When we look at how all of the affected areas of Japan, including Minami Soma, can rebuild following the disaster, it is necessary for all of Japan to change its way of thinking and its way of life.”

After the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant resulted in the halting of all nuclear power plants in Japan. In 2013, stricter safety regulations were implemented by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

In August and October of last year, the first two reactors under the new regulations were brought back online at Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima. A third reactor was restarted by Kansai Electric Power at the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui earlier this month.

This summer, TEPCO is expected to restart two reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata. When asked to comment on the restart, Yukako Handa, a TEPCO spokesperson, wrote in an email, “For the restart, we will accurately respond to (any requests for) review with safety as a top priority while proceeding by putting our best efforts into sincere explanations about safety concerns (obtained) from local residents.”

Recovery

An evacuation order issued after the earthquake forced many residents in Minami Soma to leave their homes. But the population is recovering, says Sakurai. Having dipped as low as 10,000, the number of residents in Minami Soma is approximately 57,000, about 80 percent of the total before the disaster.

Radiation levels are being continually monitored. According to Sakurai, 70 percent of the children in Minami Soma have returned since the disaster, with 99.86 percent of those tested being radiation-free.

But, according to Sakurai, there remains lingering fears of high radiation levels and that compensation from the government may disappear. This, he says, is having social and economic implications: The city is suffering from a shortage of workers, especially for schools and nursery facilities.

“Our hope is for as many people as possible to be able to return to Minami Soma and also join or become involved in the ongoing recovery process,” said Sakurai. “However, we are also faced with the reality that five years has passed since the disaster. During that time, many of the younger generation have moved away and built new homes and new lives in their places of evacuation or in the places they have moved to.”

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