* Nearly half of town’s residents still away from their homes
* Tohoku Elec plans to build Namie-Odaka nuclear plant near Fukushima
* Town to give up infrastructure subsidies for areas hosting reactors
TOKYO, Aug 4 (Reuters) – Japan’s Minamisoma City, about 20 km north of the crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, became the country’s first city since the crisis to pull back from plans to host a future nuclear plant by giving up a windfall from government subsidies, as safety concerns cast doubts over nuclear power’s future.
Minamisoma has decided not to request infrastructure subsidies offered by the central government to communities that agree to house new nuclear plants, which it has been receiving since 1986 in conjunction with Tohoku Electric Power’s plan to build a plant on the city’s southern border.
Communities have shown increasing wariness toward new nuclear power projects since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japantriggered a protracted radiation crisis at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
Japan has yet to hammer out a new nuclear energy policy after Prime Minister Naoto Kan called for a clean-slate review and said Japan should wean itself from nuclear power.
Before the March 11 disaster, Minamisoma had planned to use 52 million yen ($680,000) of the subsidies in its budget for the fiscal year to March 2012. It has received about 500 million yen in nuclear power-related subsidies since 1986/87.
The subsidies are financed by electricity bills paid by end-users via a scheme in place since the 1970s to promote nuclear power, as Japan sought to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, boost energy security and lower electricity costs.
The mayor of Minamisoma, Katsunobu Sakurai, criticised the central government’s initial evacuation directives during the Fukushima crisis as confusing and putting lives in danger. Nearly half the town’s residents remain away from their homes due to the disaster and subsequent radiation leaks.
“Having confronted this accident, we’ve changed our policy so as to get rid of nuclear power, to ensure the safety and security of our residents,” said Hiroyuki Ishikawa, a city official.
Minamisoma, as a shareholder in Tokyo Electric and Tohoku Electric, voted for proposals to abolish nuclear plants at the utilities’ annual shareholder meetings in June.
The city has not yet notified Tohoku Electric of its decision, which still requires approval by a municipal assembly meeting to be held later this year, Ishikawa said.
A spokesman for Tohoku Electric, which had planned to start commercial operation of the Namie-Odaka nuclear plant on Minamisoma’s southern border in 2021/22, said this was not an appropriate time to discuss the company’s nuclear plant construction plans.
In 2009/10, Japan paid a total of 93.7 billion yen in subsidies upon request to local governments that are hosting or plan to host nuclear plants, to support infrastructure and other projects, a trade ministry official said. ($1 = 76.890 Japanese Yen) (Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Edmund Klamann)