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Will Japan hold a referendum to scrap nuclear power?

A year an earthquake and a tsunami caused the world's worst nuclear disaster in a quarter century, a group of activists in Osaka, Japan, are seeking to hold a referendum that would ban nuclear power for Osaka. 

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Kansai Electric Power Co's idle nuclear reactors are seen in Ohi, Fukui prefecture, western Japan. A group of antinuclear activists in Osaka are seeking a referendum that would ban nuclear power.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP/File

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A group of Japanese activists submitted a petition to the western city of Osaka on Tuesday seeking a referendum on scrapping atomic power, a step some hope will boost a campaign that appears to be flagging a year after the Fukushima disaster.

The world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years after an earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima plant spurred anti-nuclear movements, previously seen as the preserve of left-leaning activists.

Plebiscites are rare in Japan -- three have been held on nuclear power as well as a number of others -- and no law exists for a national referendum. But campaigners in Osaka, Tokyo and the western prefecture of Shizuoka are taking advantage of rules that allow for referendums if the local assembly gives the nod.

Osaka, the core of Japan's second biggest metropolitan area with 2.7 million residents, receives its electricity from Kansai Electric, Japan's second-biggest utility operating 11 reactors at three plants near the city.

If a plebiscite takes place, residents will vote on whether to scrap Kansai-operated nuclear power plants.

"Deciding such an important issue should be in the hands of the voters," said Hajime Imai, an organiser of the group.

The role of nuclear power is now under debate by the central government, which has abandoned a pre-Fukushima goal of boosting atomic energy's share of electricity demand to 50 percent by 2030 from 30 percent before the accident.

The industry is under intense scrutiny, with many reactors undergoing computer-simulated tests to ensure they could withstand a new disaster. Only three of 54 reactors are on stream at the moment.

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