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Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

Hashimoto's opposition a big hurdle in Osaka nuclear plebiscite drive


Staff writer

OSAKA — Efforts by a citizens' group to hold a plebiscite in Osaka on the future of nuclear power hit a major stumbling block when Mayor Toru Hashimoto formally announced his opposition to the plan this week.

News photo
Calling the shots: Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto holds a news conference Feb. 9 at City Hall. KYODO

Earlier this month, the group pushing for a plebiscite to allow residents to vote on whether to abolish local atomic power plants submitted a petition with the signatures of more than 55,000 Osaka residents eligible to vote. The total is more than the number required to force the municipal assembly to vote on whether to hold the referendum.

But Hashimoto declared he is against the idea, even though he began calling for atomic energy to be reduced last year while he was Osaka governor and pledged to aim to cut nuclear power and replace it with renewable energy sources in the platform of his group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), before last November's mayoral and gubernatorial polls.

Ishin no Kai members accounting for 33 of the assembly's 86 seats are expected to follow Hashimoto's lead and vote against the proposal when the municipal chamber debates it next month.

So far, only the two smallest groups in the assembly have agreed to support the plan — Osaka Mirai, which has nine seats, and the Japanese Communist Party, with eight.

The group is continuing to lobby assembly members, but some from New Komeito and the Liberal Democratic Party have already said they will likely vote against the measure. New Komeito has 19 seats in the assembly, while the LDP has 17.

In a formal statement issued earlier this week, Hashimoto said his election on an antinuclear power platform means holding a plebiscite on the issue would be redundant and also a waste of public funds.

"The result of last November's mayoral election clearly showed that the will of Osaka's people is for a move toward ending the region's reliance on nuclear power. So the aim of the plebiscite proposal, to let the people decide the issue, has already been decided," Hashimoto said.

The mayor also criticized the question voters would be presented with at the proposed plebiscite — whether or not to allow Kansai Electric Power Co. to continue operating nuclear plants — for framing the issue only in absolute terms and for not proposing to ask voters sufficiently detailed questions about nuclear power.

"If we're to again vote on the issue in a referendum, it's necessary to also ask how nuclear power should be reduced and how replacement energy sources should be secured," he said.

"Present specific questions and let the people decide. There is scant necessity to spend a large amount of money to hold a referendum simply to ask whether nuclear power plants should continue to be operated."

But Hajime Imai, a journalist spearheading the Osaka plebiscite drive, disputed Hashimoto's claim that since voters backed his platform opposing nuclear energy last November, the issue effectively has been settled.

"The main issue during last year's (double) elections, and the main plank of Osaka Ishin no Kai's party manifesto, was whether to merge the bureaucracy of the city of Osaka with the prefecture's," Imai said.

"Moving away from nuclear power was a minor (election) issue, and one that accounted for just two or three paragraphs in the party's 18-page manifesto.

"You can't claim nuclear energy was sufficiently debated during (Osaka's) elections or that it proves people voted for Hashimoto mainly because they shared his opposition to atomic power," he argued.

"Furthermore, Ishin no Kai's manifesto only talks about making efforts to reduce the region's reliance on nuclear power. This plebiscite proposal is different.

"It wouldn't ask voters about reducing atomic energy, but present them with a more fundamental question — whether or not to keep any nuclear plants," he said.



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