Industry minister Banri Kaieda on Saturday called for restarting nuclear reactors currently suspended to meet summertime electricity demand, saying immediate countermeasures for severe accidents have been taken “appropriately” at the nation’s power plants.
But local governments hosting nuclear plants adopted a cautious stance, saying they will need to thoroughly examine safety measures.
According to safety agreements signed with power plant operators, utilities need the consent of local governments before reactors can be restarted.
Noting that the power shortages facing the country could cause a “hollowing out” of Japanese industries, he called on local governments and residents to accept the reactivation of reactors that have been halted longer than planned by the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
On Saturday, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, part of the industry ministry, said it had determined that nearly all short-term measures have been taken to prevent severe accidents at nuclear power plants, prompting Kaieda to say that there is no safety problem with rebooting the suspended reactors.
On June 7, NISA called for 11 nuclear power plant operators to report on countermeasures taken to prevent accidents similar to the Fukushima incident from happening again.
The agency then conducted inspections to confirm the countermeasures reported, including steps to ensure communication during blackouts, protective gear for high-level radiation and mechanisms to vent hydrogen from the reactor buildings.
Kaieda expressed readiness to visit areas hosting nuclear power plants to gain the acceptance of local governments and residents for the move.
“The state will thoroughly explain the safety of atomic energy to local people as its responsibility,” he said.
Despite Kaieda’s strong urging for reactor reboots, local governments hosting nuclear power plants appeared largely unmoved, with the government of Fukui Prefecture, which hosts 13 commercial reactors — the most in the nation — saying that it is in no position to agree to an immediate restart.
“While it’s true that we now have an additional appraisal for reactor safety, there is no change in our prefecture’s response so far,” an official in charge of nuclear safety measures said.
Thirty-five of the nation’s 54 commercial reactors have been halted for regular inspections and other reasons. But restarting them has been problematic because the local governments hosting them are concerned about their safety in light of the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl accident.
Ishikawa Gov. Masanori Tanimoto said in a statement it is difficult to make a decision on restarting the Shika plant located in his prefecture unless the government explains in more detail how the situation at the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, which the government formally asked Chubu Electric Power Co. to shut down, differs from that at other plants.
At the news conference, Kaieda also indicated the need to devise comprehensive safety standards to obtain the understanding of local governments and people worried about the safety of nuclear power plants.