Abe-backed candidate wins Ibaraki election in nuclear boost

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party gets a boost after a candidate he supported was elected as governor of Japan's Ibaraki prefecture. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - A candidate backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party was elected on Sunday as governor of Japan's Ibaraki prefecture,potentially boosting the premier's push to revive the nation's atomic plants after the Fukushima disaster six years ago.

Kazuhiko Oigawa, 53, beat incumbent Masaru Hashimoto, public broadcaster NHK reported. While the independent Hashimoto, 71, has opposed restarting a reactor in the prefecture, Oigawa, a former trade ministry official, has not openly spoken against putting the unit back into operation.

Oigawa's victory bodes well for Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party was soundly beaten in a Tokyo election last month (July) after he and his party lost the public's confidence over a series of scandals.

It is also good news for the central government after wins last year by anti-nuclear candidates in the Kagoshima and Niigata gubernatorial races.

The LDP had sent in senior party members to the campaign trail to support Oigawa, in a bid to regain momentum ahead of three upcoming by-elections. Abe's party faces votes for Lower House seats representing Aomori, Niigata and Ehime prefectures in October.

Local-government approval - including endorsement from the governor - is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before returning nuclear power plants to service.

About 65 per cent of voters in Ibaraki were opposed to restarting the prefecture's Tokai No. 2 nuclear reactor, according to a Kyodo News poll of 1,015 residents conducted on Aug 19 to 20.

Fukushima Disaster The reactor, located about 130 km northeast of Tokyo, has a capacity of 1.1 gigawatts. Run by the Japan Atomic Power Co., the unit began operations in November 1978 but has been shut since March 2011 when a large earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

About 960,000 people live within 30 km of the reactor, more than any other in the country, according to the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper. Mayors from 10 of prefecture's 44 towns oppose a restart, while two support it, according to a survey conducted by the paper earlier this year.

Japan's nuclear regulator is close to a decision on whether allow the reactor to resume operations under post-Fukushima safety rules. Five of Japan's operable units are now online after receiving clearance.

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