TOKYO (Reuters) - A mayor who backs a plan to build a new nuclear reactor in his western Japanese town was reelected on Sunday, Kyodo news reported, a sign that atomic power still has pockets of support in the country despite the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Shigemi Kashiwabara, 62, won a third term as mayor of Kaminoseki in the western prefecture of Yamaguchi, where Chugoku Electric Power Co wants to build a new atomic plant that would begin commercial operation in 2018, Kyodo said.
The challenger in the election had called for the plan to be scrapped in the wake of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was crippled by the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan.
Public support for nuclear power, which supplied about 30 percent of resource-poor Japan's electricity needs before the March disasters, has dwindled since the Fukushima crisis, the world's worst radiation accident in 25 years.
Surveys show a majority of voters favor a gradual phase-out of nuclear power, and government officials have said that it would be difficult to go ahead with plans to boost atomic energy's share to 50 percent by building new reactors.
Some 80,000 people have been evacuated from the area around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which is still leaking radiation, and last Monday, tens of thousands rallied in Tokyo to demand an end to the country's reliance on nuclear power.
But many in the largely rural, aging communities that host -- or want to host -- Japan's reactors still back the nuclear plants, which provide jobs and bring subsidies that account for hefty chunks of local finances.
"What is wrong in hoping for a decent living?" Kyodo quoted Mayor Kashiwabara as saying earlier this month.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who took over as Japan's sixth premier in five years, has made clear that he sees nuclear power as playing a part in Japan's energy supply for decades.
Short-term, however, he faces the challenge of convincing the public that it is safe to restart reactors that have been shut down for routine maintenance.
Unless such reactors are restarted, all of Japan's 54 reactors will be off-line by next April.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Ed Lane)