Surprising poll result shows signs that public is turning against nuclear power
Sometimes the words of a loser in a closely contested event can contain some hidden meanings. When asked how he felt about defeat in the July 29 Yamaguchi gubernatorial election, Tetsunari Iida, 53, said he felt as if he saw "a steel plate cracking and the gaps widening." His comments on the traditional conservative constituency should not be dismissed as merely sour grapes.
Shigetaro Yamamoto, 63, a former high-ranking official of the Land Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry fielded by the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito, appeared to have scored a landslide victory, beating Iida and two other candidates by a wide margin.
Yamamoto garnered 250,000 votes while Iida, who was supported by no established political party, received 180,000. However despite the almost 70,000-vote difference, newspapers reported that Iida performed outstandingly in the race, considering that Yamaguchi is a conservative stronghold.
In the general election in 2009 in which the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) scored an overwhelming victory, the LDP won three of the four single-seat constituencies in the prefecture. Yamamoto was the only LDP-backed candidate who lost in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Since his loss, he had been preparing to run in the gubernatorial race.
Iida is a staunch supporter of the abolition of nuclear power plants and frequently appears on TV and in other media. However, he had no experience of running in elections and had no organization to rely on to help attract votes. Even though there has been a surge in campaigns calling for the elimination of nuclear power, most observers believed that Iida would suffer a crushing defeat.
However, he turned out to be quite strong. In his hometown of Shunan with a population of 150,000, Iida overwhelmed Yamamoto. Moreover, he made a strong showing in Shimonoseki and Ube, major cities in the prefecture with a population of 280,000 and 170,000, respectively. In Shimonoseki, Yamamoto garnered 40,000 votes while Iida collected 30,000. This close contest came as a shock to the LDP.
The LDP-Komeito alliance was divided over why Iida performed so well in the race. Some in the two parties attributed it to the introduction of Osprey vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to U.S. Iwakuni base in the prefecture despite stiff opposition from local residents. Others said it was because an information technology (IT)-related company provided a large amount of money to Iida's camp to support his election campaign.
Iida denied having accepted donations from any IT firm. "Basically, we used 18 million yen in donations we received through Facebook. It was rumored that Mr. Masayoshi Son (the president of Softbank) provided funds to us, but we actually didn't receive any money from him."
"The point of contention was whether Japan should cling to a 20th century-style industrial society dependent on nuclear power or open a 21st century-style, spiritually-affluent society that won't rely on atomic power and protect nature. I called for a shifting to the 21st century-style society and I think many voters sympathized with me," he continued.
Iida majored in nuclear engineering at Kyoto University's school of engineering after graduating from Yamaguchi Prefectural Tokuyama High School, and then studied at the university's post-graduate course. In 1983, he joined Kobe Steel, Ltd. where he was involved in the production of nuclear power equipment for about three years. While on loan to the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry, he studied the history of international safety standards for nuclear power and how Japan introduced them. Through such efforts, he became a "walking dictionary" on nuclear power. He was then asked by the government's Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) to draft reports on nuclear power policy.
He then went to Sweden in 1990 to study there after harboring doubts about collusive relations between the government's nuclear power regulator, electric power companies and scientists promoting atomic power. In 2000, he set up the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies. In autumn last year, he was appointed as a member of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the government's Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy. However, he decided to run in the gubernatorial race in protest at bureaucrats who lead discussions without listening to opinions from others.
He was also named as an adviser to Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, but he is not involved in the Osaka Restoration Association, the regional party the mayor leads. He was at odds with Hashimoto over whether to reactivate idled nuclear reactors, but he says his relations with the mayor remain unchanged while he does not know Hashimoto's real view on atomic power.
Yamaguchi Prefecture where Iida hails from was the Choshu clan during the Edo Period. According to Ryotaro Shiba, a noted historical novel writer, people from Choshu tend to have complicated personalities. While being warm-hearted, sincere and wise, they are apt to rush headlong into taking action. The results of the gubernatorial race have made one wonder whether Yamaguchi voters have begun to run headlong into abandoning atomic power. (By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
August 07, 2012(Mainichi Japan)