“I was honestly very scared,” she said.
Business leaders and workers whose livelihoods depend on the factory warn that if it doesn’t come back online, the area will deteriorate, as many Japanese rural communities are experiencing a sharp population decline. About 5,500 people are currently working to maintain the disused factory, although employment is likely to increase if it reopens.
Many local residents work in the factory or know friends and family who do so. “I think there are more people who understand the need for the plant,” said Masaaki Komuro, chief executive of Niigata Kankyo Service, a maintenance contractor at the facility.
Public polls paint a muddier picture. According to a 2020 survey by the city of Kashiwazaki, nearly 20 percent of residents want to dismantle the factory immediately. About 40 percent would accept the temporary operation of some reactors, but eventually want the plant to be shut down. Just over half of the prefecture’s residents are against a nuclear restart, according to a 2021 survey by local newspaper Niigata Nippo.
The public’s prudence will be tested this month in an election for governor in Niigata prefecture. The current governor, Hideyo Hanazumi, 63, is backed by the ruling Liberal Democrats but has remained vague about his restart plans. His challenger, Naomi Katagiri, a 72-year-old architect, promises to block the resumption of operations in Kashiwazaki and Kariwa.
Much is at stake as unwritten government policies require local political leaders to sanction the restart of nuclear weapons. Kariwa’s mayor, Hiroo Shinada, 65, is a vocal proponent, while Kashiwazaki’s mayor, Masahiro Sakurai, 60, is investing in wind energy but would support the temporary operation of some reactors.