Japanese Town Rejects Nuclear Plant

In Japan's first policy referendum in history, the residents of Maki, Japan resoundingly rejected a plan to build a nuclear power plant, introducing hitherto unknown local community interference into the nation's nuclear energy policy. 61% of 20,832 voters in this town 200 miles north of Tokyo rejected the plant.

Referendum supporters are hailing the vote as the first sign of direct democracy in a nation that tends to be governed from the top down by small groups of elite decision makers with little or no public dabate. Although the plants are owned by private electricity companies, the government indemnifies the risky operations and compensates areas that accept them.

"This is not about winning or losing but about the people choosing their own future" declared Maki's mayor, Takaaki Sasaguchi, who said he would accept the results of the non-binding referendum by refusing to sell Tohuku Electric Company the land it needs to construct the plant.

The Los Angeles Times reported August 5 that "a pro-nuclear alliance of power companies, conservative political parties, the national government and business launched a flurry of TV and radio spots , sponsored numerous forums and rallies and offered inspection tours to a nearby nuclear facility...The arguments flew, burying townsfolk under reams of daly advertising inserts in newspapers."

Makoto Kikuchi, who led the referendum effort, said the Maki vote was a wake up call to politicians that it is time to open up the policymaking process. "Arrogant politicians tend to think direct democracy is shugu seiji - mob rule. But we people are not fools".

Japanese government officials and power company executives vowed to redouble efforts. Nuclear power accounts for 28% of Japan's enegy supply today. The current government wants to increase that number to 42% by 2010.