--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 22
EDITORIAL: Tokyo voters should sign up for nuclear referendum

A signature-collecting campaign is under way to hold a referendum in Tokyo to allow citizens to express their views on nuclear power generation.

But the campaign, organized by a citizens group set up to achieve referendums, is struggling to attract the attention of voters.

The group is trying to collect the required number of signatures to make a direct claim under the local autonomy law to the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Osaka municipal government for the adoption of an ordinance to hold such a referendum.

The Tokyo metropolitan government is a leading shareholder in Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, while the government of Osaka has a stake in Kansai Electric Power Co., which also operates nuclear plants.

In Osaka, the group collected more than 60,000 signatures, exceeding the 2 percent of eligible voters required to make the claim, during the one-month campaign period. The local election administration commission is now examining the signature list to determine its validity.

In Tokyo, the group needs over 210,000 signatures. But with two-thirds of the two-month campaign period already passed, the group has collected less than half the required number.

Why is the campaign receiving such a lukewarm response in Tokyo?

This is neither an “anti-nuke” nor a “pro-nuke” campaign.

The group is only seeking a referendum that will allow citizens to decide on their own whether this nation should continue to use nuclear power as part of energy sources to generate electricity.

In other words, the number of signatures collected is an indicator of how much interest people have in the issue.

Before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, nearly 30 percent of the electricity supplied to the Tokyo metropolitan area was generated at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and TEPCO’s other nuclear plants outside Tokyo.

If voters in Tokyo show so little interest in the question as to make it difficult to collect signatures from 2 percent of them, how would people in Fukushima Prefecture and other areas that host these facilities feel?

Many people in Tokyo seem interested in such a referendum but are clueless as to where they can sign for the campaign.

Tokyo has more than 10 million eligible voters.

There are permanent sites where they can sign petitions, including one in front of Shinjuku Station, but there are not enough to offer easy access to residents in all areas.

In addition, the people leading a signature campaign are allowed to collect signatures only from voters in the cities, wards, towns and villages where they live.

Clearly, this provision in the local autonomy law constitutes a major obstacle to the campaign.

Another major factor behind the different reactions from voters in the Tokyo metropolitan government and Osaka city is the different attitudes toward the issue by the local government chiefs.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto promised to reduce the city’s dependence on nuclear power during his election campaign in November although he is skeptical about the idea of holding a referendum on this issue.

Hashimoto’s remarks have probably spurred interest in the issue among the public.

In contrast, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has given the cold shoulder to moves toward a referendum, criticizing it as a “sentimental and hysteric” reaction.
Ishihara has pointed out that there is “not even a blueprint to secure an energy supply” at this stage.

But a referendum on the issue would prompt citizens to see the development of such a blueprint as their own concern and start thinking about it.

More signatures are needed for a referendum on the future of nuclear power generation in this country?which should be determined through broad public debate.

Now that the nuclear disaster has raised some fundamental questions about the energy policy, it is important for people in Tokyo, as consumers of electricity, to express their views and opinions about nuclear power generation.

Let us achieve a referendum in Tokyo to have an opportunity to do so.

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