MARTIN FACKLER and NORIMITSU ONISHI “In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/world/asia/31japan.html
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 that has raised serious questions about whether this quake-prone nation has adequately ensured the safety of its plants. So far, it has spurred only muted public questioning in towns like this.
As Kashima’s story suggests, Tokyo has been able to essentially buy the support, or at least the silent acquiescence, of communities by showering them with generous subsidies, payouts and jobs. 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.
Unquestionably, the aid has enriched rural communities that were rapidly losing jobs and people to the cities. With no substantial reserves of oil or coal, Japan relies on nuclear power for the energy needed to drive its economic machine. But critics contend that the largess has also made communities dependent on central government spending ― and thus unwilling to rock the boat by pushing for robust safety measures.
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.
Nor did planners offer alternatives to public works projects like nuclear plants. Keeping the spending spigots open became the only way to maintain newly elevated living standards.
While few will say so in public, many residents also quietly express concern about how their town gave up its once-busy fishing industry. They also say that flashy projects like the sports park have brought little lasting economic benefit. 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.
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 by Kakuei Tanaka, the powerful prime minister who shaped Japan’s nuclear power landscape and used big public works projects to build postwar Japan’s most formidable political machine.
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. Officials at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates the nuclear industry, and oversees the subsidies, refused to specify how much communities have come to rely on those subsidies.
“This is money to promote the locality’s acceptance of a nuclear plant,” said Tatsumi Nakano of the ministry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. A spokesman for Tohoku Electric Power Company, which operates a plant in Higashidori, said that the company is not involved in the subsidies, and that since Fukushima, it has focused on reassuring the public of the safety of nuclear plants.
Political experts say the subsidies encourage not only acceptance of a plant but also, over time, its expansion. That is because subsidies are designed to peak soon after a plant or reactor becomes operational, and then decline.
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*2, 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.
Eisaku Sato*3, who served as the governor of Fukushima Prefecture from 1988 to 2006 and became a critic of the nuclear industry, said that 30 years after its first reactor started operating, the town of Futaba could no longer pay its mayor’s salary.
“With a nuclear reactor, in one generation, or about 30 years, it’s possible that you’ll become a community that won’t be able to survive,” Mr. Sato said.
Futaba’s solution to its fiscal crisis was to ask the government and Tokyo Electric, Fukushima Daiichi’s operator, to build two new reactors, which would have eventually increased the number of reactors at Fukushima Daiichi to eight. The request immediately earned Futaba new subsidies.
“Putting aside whether ‘drugs’ is the right expression,” Mr. Sato said, “if you take them one time, you’ll definitely want to take them again.”
井上武史「事業仕分けと電源三法交付金」『地域経済研究所 ｅメールマガジン』 （福井県立大学）62, 2010年４月http://www.s.fpu.ac.jp/fukk/mailmgz/n61_sp1.html
DAVID McNEILL “Idyllic village on way to becoming nuclear ghost town” http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2011/0509/1224296491113.html