Mayor Shigeo Ishihara of Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, speaks to the media at the Omaezaki municipal government office on Monday.
When Chubu Electric Power Co. announced at a press conference on Monday it would halt reactor operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, residents breathed sighs of both worry and relief.
"I've been worried that a [big] earthquake might occur," said Takayuki Mochizuki, 34, a company employee of Shizuoka city.
"However, the nuclear power plant provides jobs for many people. If unemployment increases, it may upset the local economy. So whether the plant's suspension is good or bad--this can't be judged so easily," he said.
At the beginning of the press conference held at Chubu Electric's headquarters in Nagoya, President Akihisa Mizuno, 57, was circumspect.
"We regard the prime minister's request as carrying extremely heavy weight. Despite the severe situation this puts our company in, we'll swiftly suspend operations at the Hamaoka plant," he said.
In the more than 40 years of nuclear power generation in Japan, it is extremely rare for a nuclear power plant to have to suspend its operations for reasons other than accidents or natural disasters.
The operation of the plant's reactors will be suspended in several days.
"We return to the basics of 'paramount safety,'" Mizuno said, explaining the reason for accepting Prime Minister Naoto Kan's request.
However, he appeared frustrated that his company was forced to halt plant operations because of a nuclear plant accident occurring at another company.
"Our intent is to provide further public relief in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant," Mizuno said, emphasizing that the safety of Chubu Electric was not under question.
He also expressed hope that the company would restart reactors at the plant once safety measures were completed.
"We have confirmed we can restart the plant's reactors as soon as safety measures, including the construction of a seawall, are completed," Mizuno said.
The utility company plans to construct a seawall more than 15 meters high to prevent potential tsunami damage.
The plant is located in the city of Omaezaki, which sits atop the predicted focus of the Tokai earthquake. There is an 87 percent probability that this earthquake will hit the region within the next 30 years, according to a governmental earthquake research panel.
While locals were not particularly concerned living in close proximity to the Hamaoka nuclear plant before, many became especially anxious after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11.
"I didn't think about the nuclear plant so much in the past, but since the Fukushima Prefecture accident I've been really worried," housewife Kazumi Sawada, 39, said. Sawada lives in Iwata, a Shizuoka Prefecture city located about 30 kilometers from the plant.
"Safety is the top priority. I'm glad [operation of the] plant was suspended," said Hitomi Munegumi, 21, who works in a cake shop about 50 kilometers from the plant in the city of Shizuoka.
"We have to save power. That's the only thing we can do. We've been leading our lives dependent on nuclear power. Our generation has to think about alternatives," she said.
Shigeo Yanagisawa, chairman of the Omaezaki Municipal Assembly's nuclear power measures special committee, is worried about operation suspensions impacting on the local economy.
About 2,800 residents are working at jobs related to the nuclear power plant, according to Yanagisawa.
"In addition to jobs directly connected to the plant, hotels and restaurants will also be affected. The effects on the local economy are immeasurable. The national government must support the city as much as possible," Yanagisawa emphasized.
Shizuoka Gov. is pleased
Responses of local governments concerned are also mixed.
"I would like to pay my respects to Chubu Electric Power Co.'s management. It must have been quite a painful decision for them to make. Yet it's the way it should be as the electricity supplier has corporate social responsibility," Kawakatsu said.
Omaezaki Mayor Shigeo Ishihara has been placed in a difficult position as the city is home to the nuclear power plant, which directly and indirectly provides jobs and fiscal resources.
"As it was not an easy decision [for Chubu Electric], I guess it's all right," Ishihara said.
Ishihara had earlier argued that if the Hamaoka plant had to halt operations, so should all nuclear power plants across the country because Japan lies in a zone of extreme crustal instability.
Mayor Junichi Ota of Kikukawa, a neighboring city of Omaezaki, commented, "I would like the national government to respond responsibly and not cause undue concern in the local economy--especially among nuclear plant-related small and midsize enterprises such as subcontractors and those working at such companies."
Gov. Hideaki Omura of Aichi Prefecture, where Chubu Electric Power's headquarters is located, told a regular press conference Monday that the suspension should be considered with the entire national energy policy in mind.
"At a time when Aichi [Prefecture] is doing its utmost to support Japan's economy, it should be acknowledged that if the electricity supply is hampered we can't perform to the best of our ability," Omura said.