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Election Battlegrounds: Area merger overshadows nuclear power debate in Aomori

AOMORI -- The merger of an area hosting a nuclear plant and other nuclear power-related facilities into the Aomori No. 1 constituency has overshadowed debate in the electoral district on the pros and cons of a "zero nuclear power" policy.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which favors maintaining nuclear energy to cover Japan's base-load power needs, stands behind 51-year-old Jun Tsushima. Running against Tsushima on the anti-nuclear side are Party of Hope candidate Sekio Masuta, and Yuto Akahira of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP). But while Masuta favors an end to nuclear power eventually, Akahira is the only one campaigning for "immediate" termination of atomic energy in Japan.

During the last revisions to constituency borders, the Shimokita Peninsula was added to the Aomori No. 1 district. Shimokita residents now make up 25 percent of the voters in the constituency, meaning they have the power to sway the election.

The dominant industries on the peninsula are fishing and farming, but the peninsula also hosts a cluster of atomic-related facilities including the Higashidori nuclear power station and a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. This means nuclear business plays a big role in the economies and municipal budgets of the local governments.

"The need to restart Higashidori nuclear plant is completely natural. It's natural for Japan to continue to use nuclear power," Tsushima said during an Oct. 7 speech on the northern peninsular city of Mutsu, where he had just set up an office.

The Party of Hope's manifesto calls for an end to nuclear power by 2030. But Masuta has stated that he "cannot support the no zero-nuclear policy unless consideration is given to the economic impact and need for a stable electricity supply." Masuta's campaign pamphlets contain no references to the Party of Hope's nuclear power policy.

One Shimokita Peninsula municipal councillor told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The fact is, I don't see businesses coming to my town unless nuclear power continues for many years. If nuclear power goes, then people will stop flowing in."

A 53-year-old bank employee listening to a candidate's speech commented, "As long as there's no (nuclear) accident right before our eyes, then nuclear power is necessary for Aomori."

Facing off against this sentiment is the JCP's Akahira, who has declared his opposition to restarting the idled Higashidori nuclear plant and is openly angling for the anti-nuclear vote. On Oct. 10 as well, Akahira called "for a society that supports natural energy sources to the fullest, and does not rely on nuclear power."

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