Yoshio Hachiro, the new economy, trade and industry minister, has vowed to back Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s policy of resuming halted nuclear reactors if thorough checks confirm their safety.
Hachiro’s comments at a news conference Friday evening are in line with Noda’s view that restarting reactors suspended for regular maintenance and inspections is necessary to ensure a stable power supply.
He also agreed with Noda’s medium- to long-term nuclear energy policy, saying it will be “very difficult” to build new nuclear plants after the meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
“On the issue of the resumption of idled reactors, the most important thing is to employ a tougher safety standard,” Hachiro said, suggesting the possibility of re-examining the current review system used to determine whether reactors are safe to restart.
After Kyushu Electric Power Co. on Thursday halted a reactor at its Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture for a scheduled checkup, only 12 of the nation’s 54 commercial nuclear reactors are currently on line.
It remains uncertain when the idled reactors will resume operations, given the new safety assessment requirements introduced amid the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Approval from local municipalities is another precondition for utilities to restart idled reactors.
As for reactors whose service life has expired, Hachiro said “it is necessary to decommission them.” But he stopped short of saying whether he would pursue former Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s goal of ending Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.
Hachiro added that he plans to hold an advisory committee meeting on energy and natural resources by the end of this month to start reviewing the nation’s basic energy policy, which was compiled before the Fukushima nuclear accident and still includes building new reactors.
On trade issues, Hachiro said it is necessary to conduct a “thorough study” on whether Japan should join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a U.S.-backed regional free-trade initiative.
Hachiro, who is well-versed in agricultural policies, said it will be “difficult” to balance the revitalization of the agricultural sector and joining negotiations over the TPP.
Joining the free-trade agreement is fiercely opposed by farmers, who fear an influx of cheaper products from overseas.
Hachiro’s remarks highlight his cautious stance toward the TPP, and contrast with the views of his predecessor, Banri Kaieda, who in January described the TPP as a “historical necessity.’
After the March 11 catastrophe, postdisaster reconstruction became the top priority for Kan’s administration, which in May decided to postpone its plan to reach a conclusion by June on whether to join the TPP negotiations.
Little time remains before a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November, when Japan will have to state its stance on the TPP.
Hachiro, meanwhile, also vowed to promote measures to help companies hurt by the yen’s surge against the dollar.
Loan for Kyushu Electric
The Bank of Fukuoka and other regional banks in Kyushu plan to loan Kyushu Electric Power Co. around ¥100 billion to help the utility purchase fuel for thermal power generation and buy back corporate bonds, sources said.
The syndicated loan will probably be executed later this month, they said.
Kyushu Electric will likely need to purchase the fuel because the chances of restarting its Genkai plant’s nuclear reactors in Saga Prefecture appear slim.
The Bank of Fukuoka and Nishi-Nippon City Bank will provide ¥50 billion to ¥60 billion in total, while other regional banks will put up the remainder, the sources said.
The names of the other banks have not been disclosed yet, according to the sources.
Four of Kyushu Electric’s six reactors, including two at the Genkai plant, have been halted for regular inspections. The remaining two will undergo scheduled checks by the end of the year.
Given the uncertain outlook for restarting the idled reactors, Kyushu Electric needs to raise funds to buy fuel for thermal power generation.
Electric power companies are increasingly tapping banks for loans to meet financial needs as the issuance of corporate bonds, traditionally the main way they raise funds, has become difficult amid the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
Chubu Electric Power Co. has borrowed ¥450 billion from a consortium comprising the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Mizuho Corporate Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., the Development Bank of Japan and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.