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Monday, June 11, 2012

Clear Overview of Oi by David McNeill at The Independent

David McNeill: The country's reactors have lain idle since the tsunami that crippled the Fukushima plant. Now the government wants to turn them on again, starting in Oi – a picturesque town that is bitterly divided on the issue:

"They chose the most stunning places in Japan for nuclear plants," says Jiku Miyazaki, and it is hard to disagree when you are in Oi. The small fishing town shelters in a rugged cove ringed by rice paddies and mountains which once cut it off from Kyoto and Osaka. The postcard beauty is only slightly marred by towering orange pylons and cables which traverse the mountains to the four-reactor power plant near the bay.

Since the 1970s, these power lines have fed electricity to Japan's second-largest concentration of people and industry, the vast urban area called Kansai. In return, the plant's remote host – population 8,800 – has become strikingly prosperous. New schools, hospitals and recreation centres dot the countryside. A hot spring resort and a baseball stadium dominate either end of Oi.

The reactors that generated this largesse, however, have been shut down since last year and are being kept idle by Japan's post-Fukushima fear of nuclear energy...

Anti-nuclear protesters camp permanently in the town...

If the government has its way, Oi will become the first host town since the crisis to restart its idling reactors. On Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made a televised appeal for the country to get behind a restart at two of Oi's reactors, saying it was crucial to ensure a stable power supply. But despite many sympathisers in Oi, the government has a long way to go in broadening that support outside the towns which directly benefit from the plants. The further you go from Oi, support for a restart melts away.

Oi belongs to one of the planet's heaviest concentrations of nuclear power generation: 13 reactors at four plants strung along a 50km-odd stretch of the Japan Sea coast – an area known as the "nuclear Ginza". Further up the coast is the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki complex, the world's largest – part of a 50-reactor network that supplied about a third of Japan's electricity before March 2011. One by one during the past year, the reactors have been powered down for inspections, leaving the nation nuclear free for the first time since the 1970s. Before they can restart they must pass new stress tests and win the backing of their hosts...

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