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Japanese Town Rejects Nuclear Power Plant in Referendum

August 4, 1996

TOKYO (AP) _ In a major setback for nuclear power in Japan, a town northwest of Tokyo decisively rejected Sunday a planned nuclear plant in the nation’s first such referendum.

The town of Maki voted 61 percent to 39 percent _ 12,478 ``yes″ to 7,904 ``no″ _ against the plant, according to the final results. Turnout was heavy, at 88 percent of eligible voters.

Although the referendum was not legally binding, town mayor Takaaki Sasaguchi said he will honor the result and refuse to sell town land needed by Tohoku Electric Power Co. to build the plant.

The referendum marked a milestone for direct democracy in Japan. Many proposed referendums on specific issues fail to get the required local approval for a vote. Maki is the first town in Japan to hold a vote.

Five other cities and towns have approved holding referendums on nuclear power plants, but the voting dates haven’t been set. Also, citizens in Okinawa are scheduled to vote next month in a nonbinding referendum on reducing the U.S. military bases there.

Tohoku Electric said construction of the plant would create 4,000 jobs and inject millions of dollars into the Maki economy. But voter Keiko Okamura, 34, said the economic benefits didn’t mean much to her.

``I think we should protect our environment,″ Okamura told Associated Press Television as she left her polling place carrying her baby.

Proponents of nuclear power say safety concerns are exaggerated and more nuclear plants will reduce Japan’s dependence on imported oil.

``Japan has no natural resources. We need electric energy to preserve our standard of living, and nuclear energy has to play a major role in that,″ said Isao Nakamura, deputy chief of the Maki plant planning committee for Tohoku Electric Power.

The power company’s president, Toshiaki Yashima, said the company still will try to build the plant.

The company already has acquired 96 percent of the land it needs for the Maki nuclear plant, but the town of Maki owns a 97,000-square-foot chunk of the remaining land needed.

Japan has 49 nuclear power reactors in operation, providing 33.8 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to government figures.

Citizen interest in the operation of nuclear power plants in Japan has grown since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union.

Safety concerns increased after an experimental plutonium-based reactor in Tsuruga, 210 miles west of Tokyo, overheated on Dec. 8. No one was hurt in the accident, but the plant was shut down indefinitely.

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