Reactivations may precede some safety steps

Noda moves to speed up restarts

Kyodo, Staff Report

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency on Thursday handed the Cabinet a hastily drafted set of extra safety criteria for reactor restarts the government is hoping will facilitate the process of getting Fukui Prefecture back on atomic energy.

The ministers concerned will examine whether the two reactors at the Oi power plant meet the new criteria. Nearly all of the nation’s 54 reactors remain idled in light of the Fukushima disaster last year.

Separately, the government completed computerized stress tests on the Oi reactors and concluded they can survive an earthquake and tsunami like those that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011.

The new 30-point “provisional standards” for restarting nuclear reactors was apparently drafted in a rush to explain the rather technical evaluation process in plainer terms to help local politicians, whose approval is deemed critical for firing up the reactors amid heightened public concern about nuclear safety.

Short-term measures, such as arranging for vehicles to supply emergency power during blackouts and taking countermeasures against tsunami, are already complete, NISA said.

But medium- to long-term measures, such as setting up “management facilities” for something and raising coastal levees, are still being drafted.

The latter measures would require such major changes to the facilities that the government is considering letting the utilities complete them after the reactors have been restarted, government sources said.

Earlier, the sources said Noda would send Yukio Edano, the minister of economy, trade and industry, to Fukui over the weekend to tell Gov. Issei Nishikawa that reactors 3 and 4 at the Oi plant will be safe to fire up if they meet the new safety standards. But later Thursday, Edano issued a denial and said nothing has been decided.

“We haven’t got any conclusion (on safety issues) yet,” Edano told reporters.

However, according to government sources, Noda has already judged the resumption of the Oi reactors as necessary to prevent electricity shortages.

The prospects for reactivation remain uncertain. Leaders of nearby cities and prefectures, such as the governors of Kyoto and Shiga and the mayor of Osaka, remain opposed to the move. The city of Osaka is the largest shareholder in Kansai Electric Power Co., which runs the plant.

Among the dozens of reactors idled for routine checks, Oi’s are the first being considered for reactivation, given their endorsement by NISA and the Nuclear Safety Commission after completing the first stage of the stress tests.

The additional safety standards are based on 30-point safety guidelines NISA compiled last month, including the requirement that nuclear power plants have two or more power sources available and facilities to cool reactors in case one of those sources is interrupted by a quake or tsunami.

The Fukui Prefectural Government and the Oi town office have been calling on the central government to establish a provisional safety standard.

While securing the approval of local governments is not a legal requirement for the restarts, it is a political one, and Noda has made it clear that he and the ministers concerned will make a decision that takes local opinions into account.

“Those that can be operated should be operated,” Noda said about the issue in early March.

Of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors, only the No. 3 unit at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari plant in Hokkaido is currently in operation. That reactor is scheduled to be halted on May 5 for routine checks, leaving Japan without any operating reactors if none are reactivated by then.