told The New York Times last year. “There’s just none.”

Matthew Goldstein contributed reporting.

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Iran’s Push to Enrich Uranium Amid Nuclear Talks: What to Know

Iran has started enriching its uranium supply to 60 percent purity — the closest the country has ever come to the level needed for a weapon — in response to the sabotage of an Iranian nuclear site last weekend linked to Israel.

The move by Iran, reported Friday on state media, made good on threats Iranian officials had announced after the sabotage, which have cast a new cloud over talks to save the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear abilities in exchange for sanctions relief.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has gone further, boasting as those talks resumed in Vienna that his scientists could easily enrich uranium to 90 percent purity — weapons-grade fuel — although he insisted, as Iranian leaders have repeatedly, that Iran “is never seeking to make an atomic bomb.”

So what is the significance of uranium’s purity, which is at the heart of the accord that negotiators are trying to rescue? And why is Iran making these claims? Some basic questions and answers:

Uranium contains a rare radioactive isotope, called U-235, that can be used to power nuclear reactors at low enrichment levels and to fuel nuclear bombs at much higher levels. The goal of uranium enrichment is to raise the percentage levels of U-235, which is often done through the use of centrifuges — machines that spin a form of unrefined uranium at high speeds.

becomes far easier and requires fewer centrifuges as it moves into the higher purities. In other words, getting to 90 percent purity is much easier starting from 20 percent, and easier still starting from 60 percent.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear-monitoring arm of the United Nations, Iran as of February had amassed 2,967.8 kilograms of uranium — roughly 14 times the limit under the nuclear accord and theoretically enough to power about three atomic bombs if refined to weapons grade. The stockpile includes 17.6 kilograms enriched to 20 percent — also forbidden under the accord until the year 2030.

Almost certainly yes. While Iranian officials have given conflicting accounts of the extent of centrifuge damage at Natanz, the sabotaged enrichment complex, at least one has said that several thousand of the machines were destroyed. But Iran also possesses a second known enrichment site, an underground facility called Fordow, that houses roughly 1,000 centrifuges, and some were deployed early this year to enrich uranium to 20 percent.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iran expert who is a professor and director of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. “It is getting punched left and right, without the ability to do damage to the other side.”

With the 60 percent enrichment, Mr. Boroujerdi said, Iran’s leaders “are trying to resort to any aces they may have.”

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Iran’s Top Leader Signals Nuclear Talks to Resume Despite Natanz Sabotage

Iran’s top leader said Wednesday that his country would keep negotiating with world powers over how to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, quashing speculation that Iran’s delegation would boycott or quit participating in protest of the apparent Israeli sabotage of a major uranium enrichment site this past weekend.

The declaration by the top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on security matters in the country of 80 million, came three days after an explosive blast at the Natanz enrichment site plunged the heavily guarded facility into a blackout and disabled or destroyed hundreds of underground centrifuges used to process uranium into fuel.

Suspicion for the destruction immediately fell on Israel, which has sabotaged the Natanz site before. Israel neither confirmed nor denied the accusation but intelligence officials said it was a clandestine Israeli operation.

Outraged and embarrassed over such a security lapse, Iran vowed on Tuesday to triple its uranium enrichment purity — the most brazen departure yet from its commitments under the nuclear deal.

also said they would resume, at 12:30 p.m. local time on Thursday.

The discussions, which began early this month and recessed last Friday, are intended to map out a plan for the return of both Iran and the United States to compliance with the deal, which has teetered on collapse since President Donald J. Trump abruptly withdrew the United States from it three years ago.

Twitter that process could begin soon.

Iran has said that all of its departures from compliance with the nuclear agreement could be easily and quickly reversed when the United States rescinds its sanctions.

carried out a series of raids and attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear scientists and its uranium enrichment facilities.

Although American and Israeli governments have collaborated before to counter what they see as Iran’s militaristic nuclear ambitions, Washington denied any role in Sunday’s blackout. The Biden administration has said it remains committed to reviving the nuclear agreement.

Iran and the United States have not been negotiating directly in the talks in Vienna, which are led by the European Union. Instead the other participants in the 2015 accord — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — are acting as intermediaries.

Before the blackout at Natanz, European officials maintained that both Iran and the United States were invested in the success of the talks.

The foreign ministries of Germany, France and Britain issued a joint a statement on Wednesday condemning Iran’s uranium enrichment intentions and said that they “reject all escalatory measures by any actor.”

“This is a serious development since the production of highly enriched uranium constitutes an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon,” the statement read. “Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level.”

The talks adjourned on a positive note last week. They were scheduled to continue this week after all parties agreed to move forward.

according to senior diplomats who were involved. Two working groups were formed to discuss sanctions and uranium enrichment, both tasked with mapping out a plan to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Steven Erlanger and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.

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Japan’s Plan for Fukushima Wastewater Meets a Wall of Mistrust in Asia

TOKYO — In late 2019, the Japanese government convened diplomats from 22 countries for a briefing on its handling of more than a million tons of wastewater from Fukushima’s crippled nuclear reactors.

Storage space was rapidly running out, the authorities explained, and they were considering several solutions. Among them was removing the most harmful radioactive material from the water and then gradually releasing it into the ocean. The diplomats raised no objections, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

On Tuesday, when Japan officially announced that it would put the plan into action, the knives came out. South Korea denounced it as “utterly intolerable” and summoned the Japanese ambassador. China cited “grave concerns.” Taiwan also raised strong objections.

Japan has dismissed criticism of its plan as unscientific, saying that the treated water is well within safety standards, and pointing out that such releases into oceans are routine around the world. But its argument, as the reaction on Tuesday showed, leaves Tokyo a long way from winning its neighbors’ trust, a challenge made all the more difficult by growing regional tensions on a range of issues.

Japan’s handling of the nuclear disaster. China and South Korea are among 15 countries or regions that have banned or restricted food imports from Fukushima, despite the Japanese government’s abundant efforts to demonstrate that products from the area, from rice to fish, are safe to eat.

International advocacy groups, like Greenpeace, have also criticized the government’s decision, arguing that it is a cost-saving measure that ignores the potential environmental harms. The group advocates building additional storage facilities for the waste instead.

Even at home, the idea of pouring water, treated or not, from the crippled plant into the ocean is unpopular. In a national poll late last year by the Japanese daily The Asahi Shimbun, 55 percent of respondents opposed the plan.

It is even less welcome in Fukushima itself, where residents fear that the mere perception of risk will destroy the local fishing industry, which has been hoping for a rebound after a decade of self-imposed limits.

the 2011 earthquake and tsunami generates more than 150 additional tons a day.

Under the plan, powerful filters will be used to remove all of the radioactive material from the water except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses. Radiation levels in the resulting product, the government says, are lower than those found in drinking water. Japan intends to start releasing the water in 2023, in a process that is expected to take decades.

In an effort to ease minds at home, the authorities have placed dosimeters around the prefecture to monitor radiation levels and conduct routine screenings of seafood from the region. The government has held public hearings on the plan in Fukushima and in Tokyo.

The authorities say that they have also discussed the issue extensively with other countries and at international forums. In a news briefing on Tuesday, a Japanese official said that the country had held 108 group briefings for diplomats in Japan and had met with representatives from China and South Korea on the day of the announcement to explain the decision.

The United States came out in support of the plan. The International Atomic Energy Agency also endorsed it, saying in a statement that it was “in line with practice globally, even though the large amount of water at the Fukushima plant makes it a unique and complex case.”

The gap between such reassurances and the strident reactions closer to home was striking.

The outrage in the region is “quite understandable,” said Nanako Shimizu, an associate professor of international relations at Utsunomiya University in Japan who is opposed to the plan.

“If South Korea or China announced the same thing, I’m sure that the Japanese government and the vast majority of the Japanese people would also object,” she said.

Governments in the region most likely feel domestic pressure to take a strong stance, said Eunjung Lim, an associate professor of international relations at Kongju National University in Gongju, South Korea, who specializes in Japan and South Korea.

Whether their worries are rational or not, many people in the region “are going to be very, very anxious about what would happen if this radioactive material came into our near seas and contaminated our resources,” she said.

Even under the best of circumstances, Japan would find it “really difficult to persuade its neighbors to accept this kind of decision, because obviously, it’s not our fault. It’s Japan’s fault, so why do we have to experience this kind of difficulty?” she added.

Regional tensions have made surrounding countries even less receptive to the plan. In recent years, territorial disputes and disagreements over trade and historical issues related to World War II have strained Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, with spillover effects on government dialogues across a broad range of issues.

China warned Japan on Tuesday against taking any decision without further consultation with the international community, saying that it “reserved the right to take further action.”

In its statement, South Korea accused Japan of taking “unilateral action” without seeking consultation and understanding with South Korea, which “lies closest to Japan.”

Some in Japan believe that such complaints should be met with more than scientific arguments. Shunichi Tanaka, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said that the criticism smacked of hypocrisy.

South Korea itself operates four heavy-water reactors that routinely discharge water containing tritium at higher levels than those planned in Fukushima, he said in a recent interview.

“When South Korea makes claims like this, we shouldn’t be quiet, we need to properly refute them,” he said.

But the challenge Japan faces is not just on the global stage. At home, many are reluctant to trust the government or Tepco, the nuclear plant’s operator.

A parliamentary commission found that the meltdowns had been the result of a lack of oversight and of collusion between the government, the plant’s owner and regulators. And Tepco was forced to retract assertions that it had treated most of the wastewater. In fact, it had completely processed only about one-fifth, a problem that arose from a failure to change filters in the decontamination system frequently enough.

Ultimately, Japan is in a battle to alter perceptions, whether of the trustworthiness of its own government or of the risk posed by the treated water, said Hirohiko Fukushima, a professor at Chuo Gakuin University specializing in local governance issues.

In Fukushima, the government’s response to local concerns has often come across as highhanded, he said. Changing that view will require the authorities to improve transparency around their decisions and build new relationships, he said.

“From my perspective,” he added, “it’s probably difficult for Japan to convince foreign countries when it can’t even convince its own people.”

Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul. Albee Zhang contributed research from Shanghai.

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Japan to Start Releasing Radioactive Water From Fukushima in 2 Years

Japan said on Tuesday that it had decided to gradually release tons of treated wastewater from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean, describing it as the best option for disposal despite fierce opposition from fishing crews at home and concern from governments abroad.

The plan to release the water in two years was approved during a cabinet meeting of ministers early Tuesday.

Disposal of the wastewater has been long delayed by public opposition and by safety concerns. But the space used to store the water is expected to run out next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told lawmakers on Monday that the ocean release was “unavoidable” and could no longer be postponed.

The Fukushima crisis was set off in March 2011 by a huge earthquake and tsunami that ripped through northeastern Japan and killed more than 19,000 people. The subsequent meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Tens of thousands of people fled the area around the plant or were evacuated, in many cases never to return.

Ten years later, the cleanup is far from finished at the disabled plant, which is operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. To keep the three damaged reactor cores from melting, cooling water is pumped through them continuously. The water is then sent through a powerful filtration system that is able to remove all of the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses.

said last year that both options were “technically feasible.” Nuclear power plants around the world routinely discharge treated wastewater containing tritium into the sea.

But the Japanese government’s plan faces strong opposition from local officials and fishing crews, who say that it would add to consumer fears about the safety of Fukushima seafood. Catch levels in the area are already a small fraction of what they were before the disaster.

expressed concerns.

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The Iran Nuclear Talks Explained

BRUSSELS — In Vienna on Tuesday, the signers of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will come together with what would appear to be a simple task. They want to restore compliance with an agreement that put strict controls on Iran’s nuclear enrichment, to ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon, in return for the lifting of punishing economic sanctions.

Both Iran and the United States insist that they want to return to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A. But nothing about the meeting will be simple.

President Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the accord in May 2018, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated,’’ and restored and then enhanced harsh economic sanctions against Iran, trying to force it to renegotiate.

Iran responded in part by enriching uranium significantly beyond the limits in the agreement, building more advanced centrifuges, and acting more aggressively in support of allies in the Middle East, like Hezbollah, Hamas, Shia militias in Iraq and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

intended to create a road map for a synchronized return of both Iran and the United States to compliance with the 2015 deal. It has been at risk of collapse since Mr. Trump repudiated American participation.

The accord was the outcome of years of negotiations with Iran. Under the chairmanship of the European Union, Britain, France and Germany made the first overtures to Iran, joined by the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: Russia, China and the United States.

But it was not until the United States started secret talks with Iran under President Barack Obama and agreed that Iran could enrich uranium, though under safeguards, that a breakthrough occurred. Even then, the deal was widely criticized as too weak by many in Congress and by Israel, which saw Iran’s possible reach for a nuclear weapon — an aspiration always denied by Iran — as an existential threat.

The Europeans tried to keep the deal alive, but proved unable to provide Iran the economic benefits it was due after Mr. Trump restored American sanctions that had been lifted under the deal’s terms. The American sanctions, based on the global power of the dollar and the American banking system, kept European and other companies from doing business with Iran, and Mr. Trump intensified the pressure by adding many more sanctions.

agreed in late February to keep recording information on its inspection equipment for three months, but without granting I.A.E.A. access. If economic sanctions are not lifted in that time, Iran says, the information will be deleted, which would leave the world in the dark about key parts of the nuclear program.

Iran insists it can return to compliance with the deal quickly, but wants the United States to do so first. The Biden administration says it wants Iran to go first.

Trust is one big problem. The Iranian regime was established by a revolution more than four decades ago that replaced the American-backed Shah of Iran with a complicated government overseen by clerics and the strong hand of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ayatollah only reluctantly agreed to the 2015 deal with the “Great Satan” of America. After Mr. Trump pulled out, Mr. Khamenei’s mistrust only deepened.

Mr. Trump also imposed many economic sanctions on Iran beyond those originally lifted by the deal, trying “maximum pressure” to force Iran to negotiate much more stringent terms. Iranian officials now say as many as 1,600 American sanctions must be lifted, about half of them imposed by Mr. Trump. Some are aimed at terrorism and human rights violations, not nuclear issues. Lifting some of them would create opposition in Congress.

Many in Washington, let alone in Israel and Europe, also disbelieve Iran’s assertions that it has never pursued a nuclear weapon and would never do so.

Further complicating restoration of the accord are its “sunset” clauses, or time limits, that would allow Iran to resume certain nuclear enrichment activities. The Biden administration wants further negotiations with Iran to extend those time limits as well as put limits on Iran’s missile program and other activities.

Iran says it simply wants the United States to return to the deal it left, including the lifting of sanctions, before it will return, too. It has so far rejected any further talks.

Even under the Islamic regime, Iran has politics, too. There are presidential elections in June, with candidates approved by the clerics. The current president, Hassan Rouhani, who cannot run for another term, and the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, are considered relatively moderate and negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal. But powerful forces in Iran opposed the deal, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The moderates hope that quick progress on lifting economic sanctions will help them in the presidential elections; the hard-liners are expected to oppose any quick deal in Vienna that might benefit the moderates.

Iran has lived with tough Trump sanctions for three years now and survived popular discontent and even protests, and hard-liners will argue that another six months are not likely to matter.

The meeting of senior diplomats is formally a session of the Joint Commission of the deal, called by the European Union as chairman. Since the United States left the accord, its representatives will not be in the room, but somewhere nearby. Diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran will meet, with a European Union chair, and start to discuss how to revitalize the accord.

Iran refuses to meet face-to-face with American diplomats. So the Europeans suggest that they will either meet the Americans with proposals, or that the Iranians will leave the room before the Americans enter. This process of indirect talks could take time.

But European diplomats say that after a few days, the job will be left in Vienna to working groups on the complicated political and technical issues. If a rough agreement can be reached on a synchronized return to compliance, the expectation is that officials of Iran and the United States will meet to finalize the details.

The talks may take a long time, and some in Washington hope at least for an agreement in principle in the next few months that would bind any new Iranian government after the June elections.

But some European diplomats fear that too much time has already elapsed, and that the deal is effectively dead, and will essentially serve as a reference point for what may be a fundamentally new negotiation.

So the timeline is unclear, as is the prospect for success.

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Iran, China Sign Economic, Security Agreement, Challenging U.S. Pressure

Iran and China signed a wide-ranging economic and security cooperation agreement, defying U.S. attempts to isolate Iran and advancing Tehran’s longstanding efforts to deepen diplomatic ties outside Western powers.

Foreign ministers Javad Zarif and Wang Yi signed on Saturday what both sides bill as a “strategic partnership” that will last for 25 years. The deal, which was five years in the making, was signed in Tehran.

Details about the agreement weren’t immediately published, but a draft of the agreement circulated last year included Chinese investments in projects ranging from nuclear energy, ports, railroads and other infrastructure to transfer of military technology and investment in Iran’s oil-and-gas industry.

In return for investments, China would receive steady supplies of Iranian oil, Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency said Saturday, adding that the two countries also agreed to establish an Iranian-Chinese bank. Such a bank could help Tehran evade U.S. sanctions that have effectively barred it from global banking systems.

“This cooperation is a basis for Iran and China to participate in major projects and infrastructure development,” including Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday ahead of the signing, referring to China’s vast global investment and development strategy.

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Fukushima Photos: 10 Years Later

Ten years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami led to a nuclear meltdown in northern Japan, residents are readjusting to places that feel familiar and hostile at once.


FUKUSHIMA, Japan — After an earthquake and tsunami pummeled a nuclear plant about 12 miles from their home, Tomoko Kobayashi and her husband joined the evacuation and left their Dalmatian behind, expecting they would return home in a few days.

It ended up being five years. Even now — a decade after those deadly natural disasters on March 11, 2011, set off a catastrophic nuclear meltdown — the Japanese government has not fully reopened villages and towns within the original 12-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. And even if it did, many former residents have no plans to return.

Some of those who did return figured that coming home was worth the residual radiation risk. Others, like Ms. Kobayashi, 68, had businesses to restart.

“We had reasons to come back and the means to do so,” said Ms. Kobayashi, who manages a guesthouse. “It made sense — to an extent.”

one million tons of contaminated water into the sea has riled local fishermen, and cases against the government and the plant operator are winding through the country’s highest courts. The issue of nuclear power remains highly fraught.

And for miles around the plant, there are physical reminders of an accident that forced the exodus of about 164,000 people.

crashed ashore, flooding his auto body shop in the industrial city of Koriyama.

It can feel that way in the town of Namie, where bags of radioactive waste have piled up.

new schools, roads, public housing and other infrastructure in an effort to lure former residents back.

Some residents in their 60s and beyond see the appeal. It can be hard for them to imagine living anywhere else.

“They want to be in their hometown,” said Tsunao Kato, 71, who reopened his third-generation barbershop even before its running water had been restored. “They want to die here.”

One upside is that the threat of lingering radiation feels less immediate than that of the coronavirus, said Mr. Kato, whose shop is in the city of Minami Soma. In that sense, living amid the reminders of nuclear disaster — in towns where streetlights illuminate empty intersections — is a welcome sort of social distancing.

At a Futaba nursery school, umbrellas have sat untouched for a decade, protecting no one from the rain.

Nearby, a collapsed house is still waiting for a demolition crew.

Mr. Kato said that while he was happy to be back, he struggled to balance a desire to stay with the knowledge that living somewhere else would probably be safer.

“Logic and emotion can’t mesh,” he said, “like oil and water.”

Like Mr. Kato, Ms. Kobayashi had been running a family business, in her case a guesthouse, when the magnitude-9 earthquake struck. The guesthouse in Minami Soma has been in her family for generations, and she took it over in 2001 when her mother retired.

The guesthouse sustained significant water damage from the tsunami. But Ms. Kobayashi’s family restored and reopened it. (Their Dalmatian, who survived the nuclear accident, died just before the renovation was completed.)

They did not expect a surge of tourists, she said, but hoped to serve people who wanted to return to the area and had nowhere to stay.

“There’s no town left,” she said. “If you come back, you have to rebuild.”

Hikari Hida reported from Tokyo, and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.

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The Mayor’s House Was Firebombed. The Message: Keep Our Town Nuclear-Free.

SUTTSU, Japan — It seemed like easy money. The Japanese government was conducting a study of potential locations for storing spent nuclear fuel — a review of old geological maps and research papers about local plate tectonics. It put out a call for localities to volunteer. Participating would commit them to nothing.

Haruo Kataoka, the mayor of an ailing fishing town on the northern island of Hokkaido, put up his hand. His town, Suttsu, could use the money. What could go wrong?

The answer, he quickly learned, was a lot. A resident threw a firebomb at his home. Others threatened to recall the town council. A former prime minister traveled six hours from Tokyo to denounce the plan. The town, which spends much of the year in a snowbound hush, was enveloped in a media storm.

There are few places on earth eager to host a nuclear waste dump. Only Finland and Sweden have settled on permanent repositories for the dregs of their atomic energy programs. But the furor in Suttsu speaks to the deep anxiety that remains in Japan 10 years after an immense earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

promise that the country made late last year to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

Even before the Fukushima calamity, which led to three explosions and a release of radiation that forced the evacuation of 150,000 people, ambivalence toward nuclear energy was deeply ingrained in Japan. The country is haunted by the hundreds of thousands killed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Still, most Japanese had come to terms with nuclear power, viewing it as an inevitable part of the energy mix for a resource-poor country that must import about 90 percent of the materials it needs to generate electricity.

government’s plan to release a million tons of treated radioactive water from the site into the ocean.

The government says it would make small releases over 30 years with no impact on human health. Fishermen in Fukushima say that the plan would wreck their long journey toward recovery.

“We have this potentially dangerous technology and we still rely on it and we need to have a long-range view on nuclear waste and decommissioning, so we better think about a much more democratic way to handle the cost associated with it,” Mr. Miyazaki said in an interview.

Critics of nuclear power in Japan frequently point to the decades of failure to find a solution to the waste problem as an argument against restarting the country’s existing reactors, much less building new ones.

In November, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took his campaign against nuclear energy to Suttsu at the invitation of local activists. Speaking in the town’s gymnasium, he said that after visiting Finland’s underground waste storage site — a facility much like the one proposed by the Japanese government — he had decided that Japan’s active geology would make it impossible to find a workable location.

Japanese reactors have generated more than 18,000 tons of spent fuel over the last half-century. A small proportion of that has been turned into glass — through a process known as vitrification — and sheathed in giant metal canisters.

Almost 2,500 of the huge radioactive tubes are sitting in temporary facilities in Aomori and Ibaraki Prefectures, waiting to be lowered 1,000 feet beneath the earth’s surface into vast underground vaults. There, they would spend millenniums shedding their toxic burden.

It will be decades — if ever — before a site is selected and the project begins in earnest. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, known as NUMO and represented by a cartoon mole cautiously sticking its snout out of a hole, is in charge of finding a final resting place.

Long before he took NUMO up on its offer to conduct a study in his town, Mr. Kataoka, the Suttsu mayor, had taken an entrepreneurial view toward government subsidies.

Suttsu has a population of just under 2,900, spread thinly around the rocky rim of a deep cerulean bay, where fishing boats prowl for mackerel and squid. Beginning in 1999, with government-supported loans, Mr. Kataoka championed an initiative to install a stand of towering wind turbines along the shore.

Many in the town were initially opposed, he said during an interview in his office, but the project has delivered handsome returns. The town has spent the profits from selling electricity to pay off debts. Townspeople have free access to a heated pool, a golf course and a modest ski slope with a rope tow. Next to a sleek community center is a free day care for the few residents with children.

The facilities are not unusual for small-town Japan. Many localities have tried to stave off decline by spending large sums on white elephant projects. In Suttsu, the effect has been limited. The town is shrinking, and in early March, snow was piled to the eaves of newly built but shuttered stores along the main street.

Mr. Kataoka nominated Suttsu for the NUMO program, he said, out of a sense of responsibility to the nation. The subsidies, he admitted, are a nice bonus. But many in Suttsu doubt the intentions of both Mr. Kataoka and the government. The town, they argue, does not need the money. And they question why he made the decision without public consultation.

At a meeting of the town council on Monday, residents expressed concern that once the process had begun, it would quickly gather momentum and become impossible to stop.

The plan has fiercely divided the town. Reporters have flooded in, putting the discord on national display. A sign in the hotel by the harbor makes it clear that the staff will not accept interviews.

In October, an angry resident threw a Molotov cocktail at Mr. Kataoka’s home. It broke a window, but he smothered it without any further damage. The perpetrator was arrested and is now out on bail. He has apologized, Mr. Kataoka said.

The mayor remains bewildered by the aggressive response. Mr. Katatoka insists that the literature review is not a fait accompli and that the townspeople will have the final say.

In October, he will run for a sixth term. He wants voters to support his proposal, but whatever the outcome, he hopes the town can move forward together.

Losing the election would be bad, he said, but “the saddest part of all this has been losing the town’s trust.”

Motoko Rich contributed reporting from Tokyo.

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