Debate growing over ‘local’ reactor consent

Governors of prefectures without units seek greater say in process

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Dissent between those inside Fukui Prefecture who want two reactors in the town of Oi restarted quickly and those in adjacent prefectures who want to wait for stronger safety measures or are opposed altogether, highlights the dilemma Tokyo faces in obtaining local consent.

Over the past week, opposition to the reactivation of the Oi plant’s reactors 3 and 4 among political leaders in Shiga and Kyoto, as well as in Osaka, has grown stronger, even as support for restarts in Fukui towns that host nuclear power plants has grown as well.

At the heart of the debate is a question with legal and political ramifications for not only Fukui and Kansai, but other regions of the country that host or are near nuclear plants: What does local consent mean?

Traditionally, when nuclear plants have been restarted after normal periodic inspections, local consent meant the agreement of the towns and the governor of the prefecture where the plants were situated. But with plans to restart the Oi reactors, the central government has been forced to present its case to the governors of Shiga and Kyoto prefectures as well, both of whom are against restarts, citing the need for a new safety regime.

Osaka’s leaders are going a step further. Earlier this week, a joint municipal and prefectural energy strategy committee recommended that the Oi reactors, which supply much of Osaka’s electricity, be restarted only after eight conditions are met. One of these is to have formal safety agreements with “local” governments within 100 km of the plants, which would then include towns in northern Osaka Prefecture.

The panel’s recommendations were immediately backed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who has said he eventually wants to get out of nuclear power completely.

“At present, I’m opposed to restarting the Oi reactors. Just restarting them based on the results of technical stress tests is impossible. All sorts of questions ranging from safety to whether or not there will be electricity shortages without them have to be considered,” Hashimoto said earlier this week.

This opposition and demands by Hashimoto, Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada and Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada that they be consulted by Tokyo has angered some in Fukui Prefecture who rely heavily on the plants for their livelihoods.

Oi is one of three towns where Kansai Electric Power Co.’s 11 commercial reactors are located, and is heavily dependent on direct and indirect funding from the nuclear industry. About ¥6.3 billion, or 58 percent, of Oi’s fiscal 2012 budget comes from various subsidies for hosting four reactors.

Takahama, which is only about 10 km from Oi and hosts four reactors, has a nuclear-related budget of about ¥4.3 billion, 60 percent of its total.

Takahama officials are particularly eager for the Oi reactors to come online again, fearing massive economic damage otherwise.

“Economic damage to our town due to keeping the reactors shut down is something that others outside of Fukui need to take into consideration,” Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose said last month.

Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa wants a restart but says Tokyo must convince him that adequate safety measures have been taken. At the same time, however, the governor has a number of pet projects, especially the Hokuriku Shinkansen extension project which, he hopes, will eventually connect Fukui with both Osaka and Tokyo by bullet train. Current plans are for the link between Nagano and Kanazawa in neighboring Ishikawa Prefecture to open in 2015.

But in Shiga, Kyoto and Osaka, politicians and antinuclear activists warn that rushing to restart could have dire consequences. Several point to a 2003 report by Kyoto Sangyo University economics professor Park Seung Joon, who estimated an accident involving Oi’s reactors 3 and 4 could create a radiation leak that would lead to 3.5 million cancer cases in a 50-km radius, including the northern part of the city of Kyoto.

More than 1 million people would die and total economic damage would come to ¥460 trillion, according to Park.

The prefectures surrounding Fukui have also expressed grave concern over how people living within 30 km of Fukui’s four commercial nuclear power plants would be evacuated.