OSAKA – As the central government moves toward a final decision on restarting the Oi No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Cabinet find themselves in a looming showdown with popular Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and the governors of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, who want the reactors to remain offline for now.
In addition, despite warnings from pronuclear Tokyo bureaucrats at the Natural Resources and Energy Agency and Kansai Electric Power Co. which operates the facility in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, that the Kansai region will face electricity shortages of 20 percent or more without the reactors, there is great skepticism among local leaders, who say they have seen no convincing evidence to support such claims.
Technically, Hashimoto and the governors do not have to be formally consulted before the reactors are restarted, although industry minister Yukio Edano has said “understanding” by the Shiga and Kyoto governors is necessary.
But some recent media polls show Hashimoto’s supporters will capture 57 seats in Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Wakayama prefectures in the next Lower House election, even unseating Democratic Party of Japan policy chief Seiji Maehara, who is from Kyoto.
Thus, Noda, Edano and the DPJ now face the tough political questions of what taking Hashimoto’s demands into consideration could mean for an early restart of the Oi reactors and what ignoring them could mean for the party’s chances in the next election.
Nuclear power provided about half of the region’s electricity in 2010, and Kepco officials have long said cities like Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe are especially vulnerable if the nuclear plants remained closed.
But Hashimoto, whose advisers include critics of such predictions like Tetsunari Iida of the Institute of Sustainable Energy Policies, called on both the central government and Kepco to provide a thorough explanation, backed by data, of how they arrived at such a conclusion.
The governors of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures are also demanding to know how the central government and Kepco arrived at the 20 percent shortfall prediction.
“Is it really the case we’re facing such a severe shortage? The utilization rate of water pump electric generators is only about 20 percent and the rate for coal-burning plants is only 40 percent and can be raised,” Shiga Gov. Kada said.
Osaka, both the city and prefecture, with Hashimoto’s support, has upped the stakes against plans to restart the Oi reactors in recent days, formally declaring that Tokyo and Kepco must meet eight conditions.
The toughest demand is safety agreements with towns and villages within 100 km of the Oi reactors, which includes towns in Fukui Prefecture and adjacent Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, but also the cities of Osaka and Kobe, and some localities in Nara, Mie, Hyogo and Gifu prefectures.
The Osaka mayor said last week the strict measures were not only for safety reasons but also an attempt to pressure the central government and Kepco to fundamentally reform the way electricity is supplied.
“If the Oi reactors are simply restarted, nothing about the electricity supply system will change,” Hashimoto said. He has called for more use of renewable energy, greater competition in the electricity distribution sector and the introduction of smart grids to reduce reliance on nuclear power.