May 30, 2014


Creating a Dialogue-Oriented City -- Thinking about Energy and the Future of Kashiwazaki City

Keywords: Civil Society / Local Issues Energy Policy Newsletter Nuclear Power 

JFS Newsletter No.141 (May 2014)

Image by Yasu Some Rights Reserved.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on March 2011 precipitated a major turning point for Japan's energy policy. The city of Kashiwazaki, located in the center of Niigata Prefecture in northwest Japan, is the site of TEPCO's Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station, one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world. Currently, operation of all its seven reactors is suspended.

This extended nuclear plant shutdown is having an impact on the regional economy. On the one hand, the economy and employment have been fairly dependent on the nuclear power station and must be protected in the short term. On the other hand, there is the question of whether is it realistic for this region to continue to depend on the nuclear power industry in the future as well.

The mayor of Kashiwazaki City, Hiroshi Aida, has insisted for some time on building up the economy and industrial structure so that the city that will not have to depend heavily on the nuclear power station. In 2012, he launched the "Creating Tomorrow's Kashiwazaki" project saying, "Kashiwazaki City has so far supported the national energy policy and tried to live in harmony with the nuclear power station; however, the city is now entering a new phase. How should we deal with energy and build our city for the future? I want to create opportunities to consider and discuss this question with citizens on a level that transcends differences in position and attitudes of mind."

Here I would like to introduce Kashiwazaki City's efforts over the last two years, based on my experience of providing support for this process as a secretariat/facilitator.

Kashiwazaki City, facing the Sea of Japan, is a city of approximately 90,000 people that is endowed with a rich natural environment. Centering on the Nippon Oil Corporation (est. 1888), processing, assembly, and manufacturing industries have flourished here. Since TEPCO's Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station started operation in 1985, the city has been developed as "Energy City, Kashiwazaki."

During the discussions on national energy policy activated by the accidents at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Kashiwazaki started planning a "Symposium to Consider Future Kashiwazaki City and Energy" in April 2012, in order to consider how to build the city in future in terms of energy with the participation of citizens.

It was thought important not to rush towards a conclusion but to provide opportunities for discussing with citizens the future of the city and energy from a variety of angles by inviting participants from various backgrounds. Based on this idea, the executive committee responsible for planning was put together with people of varying ages and positions, including a chamber of commerce member, a junior chamber of commerce member, a university teacher, a doctor, a president of a local residents' association, a person who has encouraged dialogues between the power company and local residents for about ten years and a Parent-Teacher Association representative. Some were in favor of nuclear power generation, some were against it and some were neutral.

Kashiwazaki experienced painful confrontations among citizens over issues relating to the original proposal to locate the nuclear power station there. Although the committee was launched with the aim of holding a symposium for citizens, some members were skeptical about the symposium itself, worried that it would promote unnecessary confusion in the community. After many discussions, however, it became clear that all members deeply cared for Kashiwazaki's future and were united in the hope that change could occur and the voices of local residents living near nuclear power stations would be heard by the national government and electricity consuming areas, even if they differed in opinion and position on nuclear power generation. As a result, they were able to set common goals.

From the citizens' perspective, they have, in a sense, managed to get along so far with their neighbors by placing nuclear generation issues under a taboo. Therefore, committee members continued to discuss what kind of venue should be provided in order to have as many citizens as possible attend and how to plan it so that people with different positions and views could speak without being uncomfortable.

As a result, the executive committee decided on a symposium format in which local people, not experts or intellectuals from outside, would be invited to serve as panelists to tell their personal stories and convey their feelings and thoughts as local residents to the audience, in order to encourage each citizen to think about the future of their city. This format was chosen from the viewpoint that it would be better for local residents to first look back at the past and recognize the current situation in Kashiwazaki when considering the future of the city. At the same time, this symposium was also intended to offer government officials and people in electricity consuming areas an opportunity to witness the local discussion in Kashiwazaki and deepen their understanding of areas where nuclear power stations are located.

On September 28, 2012, a symposium titled "Consider the Future of Kashiwazaki City and Energy," was kicked off in the Kashiwazaki City Industry and Culture Hall. In total about 250 persons attended in the event. In the panel discussion on the first day, an official from the Kashiwazaki City government first explained about the history of the city, the background as to how it chose to invite the power company to build a nuclear power station, and the changes in the city's industrial structure. Then, citizens, mainly the members of the executive committee, were invited to speak at the podium. They told their stories in their own words, explaining their stances, opinions and hopes for the future of Kashiwazaki.

Some people initially expressed anxiety and concern with respect to this first attempt to open a discussion by gathering people from all sides, including those who were at the center of the promotion of nuclear power generation since the start of the drive to invite the nuclear power station to the city as well as those who have been involved for decades in the local campaign against nuclear power. It turned out, however, that the symposium offered the very first venue for participants from all sides to frankly tell their stories and at the same time to calmly listen to the opinions of others.

In the answers to a questionnaire filled out by symposium participants, there were many opinions expressed, such as, "It was the first time for those who are for, against and neutral about nuclear power generation to gather together to discuss the issue and it was great," "I was surprised that it was possible to create a venue for this kind of discussion, and moreover in such a calm manner," and "This symposium was a meaningful approach to share people's awareness about the issues and challenges and to learn about new opinions." These comments showed that people have high hopes that more venues designed for this type of dialogue would continue to be provided in the future as well.

On the second day, a small-group informal discussion session for citizens, entitled "Talk and Consider together about the Future of Kashiwazaki," was held. About 60 persons participated in this event. Under the rule, "Don't think about methodology or feasibility but just listen to what others have to say," participants discussed "what we like about Kashiwazaki," and "what kind of city we want Kashiwazaki to be," in small groups. These groups made lists of the many opinions and ideas raised in these sessions.

After the discussion, a few of the small groups got together, shared their opinions with each other and finally made presentations to the plenary session. The way citizens of different ages and positions in society talked about the attractive points of Kashiwazaki was so friendly and enthusiastic that the mayor was greatly surprised. A strong supporter and an opponent of nuclear power generation who had never spoken a word to each other for decades happened to sit at the same table and talked with each other, even after the session ended.

"There are different stances and opinions among citizens, especially with respect to energy and nuclear power generation issues. I think it would be quite difficult to consolidate these different opinions into a uniform position, but I believe that at least in regard to topics such as how we can vitalize the city including issues such as industries and employment, how we can make our city safe and secure, and how we can improve the level of happiness among residents, it will be possible and important to set common goals and move forward under these goals," said the mayor in his opening remarks to the symposium.

In a questionnaire conducted on the second day, participants of small-group discussions said, "It was good to have a strictly set rule that we must listen to others and not deny their opinions outright," "I was encouraged by the younger generation," and "The session was more than I expected." These comments indicate that many people found fresh inspiration in the experience itself of dialogue between people on all sides of an issue working toward a common goal.

In March 2013, the committee held another symposium to present basic knowledge on energy and energy saving, in which participants talked in groups about "what more they want to know about energy" and "what issues they want to think about in future." The symposium raised many issues on renewable energy, nuclear power, the city's industrial base, and so forth, which enabled committee members to understand residents' concerns and interests.

In fiscal 2013, the second year of the project, the city and the committee considered what action they should take to encourage all local residents to positively seek information and knowledge and make their own judgment, with a view to making the city sustainable. They wanted residents to think about Kashiwazaki's future as a personal matter, rather than as something to be decided by someone else. They thought that, to this end, residents should be given opportunities to share basic information and objective data and to participate in dialogues and discussions. The committee re-started their dialogue to address this matter.

The committee reviewed the previous year's symposiums and decided to hold an event that would encourage the participation of local people who had never thought about energy or didn't know much about. They invited the journalist, Akira Ikegami, who is popular, not as an energy expert, rather for his easy-to-understand explanations of even difficult themes, to give a talk at the symposium. Audiences earnestly listened to his lecture on the world situation involving energy and nuclear power. Given the fact that over 300 preliminary questions were contributed, that more than 1,000 people came to the lecture despite the rain, and that in the questionnaire many people said that the lecture was impressive, the committee felt it had succeeded in encouraging a wider range of local people to take an interest in energy issues.

A week later, the committee hosted a talk featuring three experts on the domestic energy situation, as well as a symposium to introduce the presentations of local businesses engaged in renewable energy. Many local people said that this alerted them to the existence of various initiatives in Kashiwazaki, showing the possibility of further expansion.

In the same year, the committee did not only wait for audiences to come to a symposium but also organized a series of "delivery lectures" on energy given by committee members and facilitators. This lecture series aimed to offer small-scale venues to people in residential communities, universities, the business sector, etc., where they could see each other's faces and talk together frankly about energy-related concerns and Kashiwazaki's future in a relaxed atmosphere. One of the advantages of dialogue is that it can be held anywhere at any time.

After two years of helping with this project, I now think that the purpose of holding symposiums and discussions is to create a venue where people who could not formerly express their views or have never considered energy issues can feel free to vocalize their opinions and consider the issues. I think this can be an opportunity to prepare for the next step.

Each committee meeting functioned precisely as this kind of venue, where people could talk together in this way. By accumulating a history of discussions, people for and against nuclear power and people in dissimilar social positions became able to exchange opinions with each other calmly. They found themselves capable of saying something like, "I still don't agree with your opinion, but I now understand why you think that way." Based on this kind of trust, the committee was able to create an unprecedented venue for considering the future together. I think this process can be a model for municipalities in which nuclear power plants are located, or where there are other types of issues with polarized pros and cons as well.

The energy situation in Japan and around the world is still not foreseeable, but no matter what the circumstances, this city and its future energy committee will continue to make an effort to help Kashiwazaki become resilient and exist in accordance with its own values. In this context, the third year of the project has just begun, with the hope that local residents can create the city's future together by continuously communicating with each other in a way that transcends differences in their views and positions and pools everyone's wisdom.

Written by Kayoko Yokoyama and Junko Edahiro