Noda eyes spring reactor restarts to avoid power shortfall

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said he intends to reactivate some of the country’s idled nuclear reactors as early as next spring, in a bid to avert a massive power shortage that could deal a potentially fatal blow to the economy.

Noda’s comments, made during a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, are the first time the prime minister has disclosed a time frame for the reactors’ controversial restart.

“If we don’t begin to reactivate (the reactors) that we can from spring through next summer, there could be a power shortage that could bring down Japan’s economy,” Noda was quoted as saying.

He dismissed the views of some analysts who claim that the economy could survive next summer without reactivating any reactors, saying “that (scenario) is not possible.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura tried to clarify Noda’s remarks during a news conference Wednesday, saying that while Japan coped with a 2.7 percent supply shortfall during peak electricity demand this summer, a power shortfall of around 10 percent is projected for next summer if all reactors are shut down.

But the conditions for restarting currently idled reactors have not changed, the government’s top spokesman added.

“There is no change whatsoever regarding the government’s policy to thoroughly check the safety of each reactor and gain the trust of local residents before they are reactivated,” Fujimura stressed.

Since the March 11 quake and tsunami triggered the nation’s worst nuclear crisis, public sentiment has remained firmly opposed to restarting reactors, most of which remain idle due to regular inspections. If some are not reactivated, all 54 reactors nationwide will by May have been shut down for regular inspections.

As for plans to construct 14 new reactors, Noda indicated earlier this month that it would be difficult to continue such projects.

But Fujimura suggested earlier that plans to build two new reactors in Aomori Prefecture and one in Shimane Prefecture, on which construction has already begun, may be treated as exceptions and allowed to continue.

Since the March 11 quake, construction of the two Aomori reactors and the Shimane reactor, which is almost complete, has been halted. No date has been set for the Shimane reactor to start operations.

The government is not ready to decide when construction of the three reactors will restart, Fujimura said Wednesday.