Kansai politicians want new safety regime before Oi reactor restart

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Politicians in the Kansai region are increasingly coming out against approving any early restart of two nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture unless the central government first issues new safety guidelines that would hopefully prevent another crisis like Fukushima No. 1.

Last week, the Nuclear Safety Commission approved the results of first-stage stress tests for reactors 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. But the commission’s approval of the stress tests has been slammed as insufficient by leaders in and out of the prefecture.

“Stress tests and safety standards are two different things. The only thing that has happened is that a single investigation has approved a set of theoretical numbers based on a theoretical scenario. The commission said nothing about the safety of the plant itself,” Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said in a series of Twitter messages this week.

On Monday, a faction in the Fukui Prefectural Assembly associated with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan met with Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Yukio Edano to demand new and more detailed safety standards before the reactors are restarted, saying simply adhering to current standards would make any restart impossible.

This followed a similar demand Sunday by the seven-prefecture Union of Kansai Governments, which called on the central government to create safety standards that take into account the lessons learned from the Fukushima reactor meltdowns, and to offer an explanation of those standards to both local governments surrounding the plant and to the Kansai union.

“Because explanations about the wide-ranging, long-term effects of the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are insufficient, it’s difficult to say there’s an understanding about restarting the Oi reactors,” the union said.

Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, a member of the union, is particularly concerned. Towns in the northern part of his prefecture lie less than 30 km from the Oi reactors. They would thus fall under new guidelines that call for disaster-management measures by local governments within a 30-km radius of a nuclear plant experiencing an accident. Shiga is also home to Lake Biwa, which provides drinking water for millions of residents in Kyoto and Osaka.

“Tokyo cannot see how close nuclear power plants are (to Shiga) or their danger,” Kada said earlier this month.

Not all communities near the Oi plant oppose a restart, however. Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, which hosts a Kepco nuclear plant, is concerned about the local economic effects if the Oi reactors remain closed. The Takahama plant is also currently idled.

“If they aren’t restarted, the central government has to come up with a backup plan. Restarting the plants will lead to economic activities that will guard people’s lifestyles. In addition, what will happen this summer to the electricity supply if the plants aren’t restarted?” Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose asked Monday.

Nose’s question is a major bone of contention between those who want the reactors restarted quickly and those who don’t.

In February, Kepco said that unless the Oi plant is restarted, there could be a 25 percent electricity shortage this summer.

But this figure is hotly disputed by antinuclear activists and politicians, including Hashimoto.

Based on Kepco’s publicly released statements, Kyoto-based Green Action recently calculated that instead of a 25 percent shortage, there would actually a 3.5 percent electricity surplus.

This, said Green Action’s Aileen Mioko Smith, is partially because Kepco’s projected summer electricity demand of 31.38 million kw is higher than the real demand reached over the past five years, and well above last summer’s maximum demand of 27.85 million kw.

In addition, Smith said Kepco is underestimating the amount of non-nuclear power available, including power from sources other than Kepco.

Tepco to seek more aid

Kyodo

Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to seek additional financial assistance from the government later this month to pay some of the massive compensation related to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, sources said.

The amount of assistance the cash-strapped utility plans to seek from the government-backed Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund could be between ¥700 billion and ¥900 billion.