Uncertainty grew Tuesday over the timing of the possible restart of the idled Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, as Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano backed off from an earlier remark and the administration did not make any decision during a Cabinet meeting later in the day.
On Monday, Edano told the Diet he had safety concerns and was opposed to restarting the Oi plant’s reactors 3 and 4, which have been stopped in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
But on Tuesday, Edano said he will now refrain from discussing his view on whether to restart the reactors.
During a news conference, Edano said he just glanced at a safety report on the plant and “didn’t totally understand” the content as of Monday. But he had clearly said he was opposed to restarting the Oi reactors.
Edano told the Upper House Budget Committee that the government needs understanding of “locals” to restart any reactors, and it has not yet gained understanding of the governors of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures.
The governors of Fukui, Kyoto and Shiga prefectures have not been fully convinced by the results of the stress tests that are supposed to assess the ability of reactors to withstand earthquakes and tsunami bigger than they were initially designed for.
Edano even indicated he believes a consensus involving the entire nation is necessary to restart the reactors. Asked about his definition of “locals,” Edano said: “The Fukushima accidents affected the whole country both directly and indirectly. In that sense, all the nation are the ‘locals.’ “
Some media reports had speculated the government had planned to make a key decision on the Oi reactors during a meeting of four key ministers on Tuesday — Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, Environmental Minister Goshi Hosono and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
But Fujimura told a morning news conference that the ministers were unlikely to make any key decision during the meeting.
“We will not make any important decision . . . today’s meeting is like an entrance (to discuss the restart issue among the ministers),” he said.
Edano separately said that the four ministers will “hold meetings until all four of us reach consensus.”
The administration has said approval of the first-stage stress test from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan is required to restart any idled reactors.
If reactors pass the first stress test, Noda and three ministers are to call a meeting and decide whether they will seek the go-ahead from local government leaders.
While the agreement of local residents is not legally necessary, the administration has said it is important to win their “understanding.”
The Oi reactors are the first idled reactors to get NISA’s approval following the first stress test in February.