Prime Minister Urges Support for Nuclear Plant Restart

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at a press conference, where he urged restart of idled reactors

On Friday, June 8, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made a public appeal for support to start two idled reactors Ohi 3 and Ohi 4, owned by Kansai Electric Power Company. As the summer season looms, energy demand is expected to increase. Japan’s energy supplies are down by more than 30 percent because all the country’s nuclear plants are in shutdown mode since the Fukushima accident.

The Ohi reactors have passed the requisite safety tests and have been deemed safe by Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency, as well as by an international IAEA-lead team that reviewed stress tests and conducted on-site inspections of the reactors.

The Japan Times reports that during a June 9 press conference, Noda said restarting the plants in the Fukui Prefecture is “crucial” for meeting Japan’s energy needs and long-term economic sustainability. “If we end [nuclear power generation] or if we continue to avoid reactivating reactors,” the economy will come to a standstill.

Noda also said that if nuclear power is not resumed, Japan’s standard of living cannot be sustained. The New York Times also reported Noda saying that national security is an issue since the country is relying more on oil and natural gas from the Middle East, which is politically volatile. Nuclear power generation provided “cheap and reliable electricity,” Noda said.

A government decision to order restart was expected to be issued this week but instead Prime Minister Noda made another appeal for support.

A significant majority of government bodies in the Fukui prefecture said they believe the reactors have met enhanced safety requirements and should be restarted. But there are still skeptics within the community that believe a deeper probe is necessary and that Japan’s new nuclear regulatory agency needs to be in place before it can determine whether a restart is merited.

The Governor of the Fukui prefecture continues to express concern over safety matters. Governor Nishikawa said he plans to hold a hearing from a panel of experts on whether plant operators are capable of making appropriate decisions during an emergency; to seek the opinion of assembly members; and to order an inspection of the plant before agreeing to a restart. But the Ohi town mayor Shinobu Tokioka said he welcomes the restart and wanted to know what Governor Nishikawa’s basis is for further delay and inspections. Shiga governor Yukiko Kata said “the government should proceed as soon as possible. The prerequisite for restart is only when demand for power peaks. Many people, including those in business circles are worried about power shortages.”

Although total consensus is not necessary, the government has said it wants to receive approval from all local government bodies before ordering a restart.