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Jonathan Head reports from Tokyo
"Local people are demanding a say in decisions on nuclear plants"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 12:45 GMT
Japan cancels nuclear plant

Japanese anti-nuclear demonstrators
Anti-nuclear protests have increased since Tokaimura

A planned nuclear power plant in Japan has been scrapped following objections by the local authorities.

I believe the Ashihama nuclear power plant project should be returned to a blank sheet of paper
Masayasu Kitagawa, Governor of Mie prefecture
In another sign of failing confidence in the country's nuclear industry, the governor of Mie prefecture, 300km (200 miles) south-west of Tokyo said there were deep local divisions over the planned plant at Ashihama.

"It is difficult to go ahead with the project under the present circumstances," said Masayasu Kitagawa.

"Therefore, I believe the Ashihama nuclear power plant project should be returned to a blank sheet of paper," he said.

Worst accident

The decision follows Japan's worst nuclear accident last September at Tokaimura in which one worker died and several hundred people were exposed to radiation.

The Tokaimura accident occurred when three plant workers placed 2.4kg (5 lbs) of uranium into a stainless steel bucket, setting off a self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

The accident was classified as the world's worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

"People's worries and disbelief in nuclear power reached a previously unknown intensity after the Tokaimura accident," Mr Kitagawa said.

No policy change

The Ashihama plant was first proposed in 1963, and it has long been the focus of anti-nuclear campaigners.

Mr Kitagawa had set a "cooling-off period" in Mie prefecture from July 1997 to the end of 1999 by calling on both project supporters and opponents to cease campaigning.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said the government considered the local governor's remarks to be "very severe".

"There is no change in the government policy of promoting construction of atomic power plants steadily by taking local situations into account," he said.

The government plans to build from 16 to 20 new nuclear power plants by 2010 to meet growing energy needs.

Following Mr Kitagawa's comments, Chubu Electric Power Co, which had wanted to build the Ashihama plant, said it would scrap the project.

Chubu said it would seek an alternative site for a plant that it believes is essential to meet growing electricity demand.

Japan has 51 nuclear reactors producing 37% of the country's electricity.

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