Noda’s reactor restart scenario thwarted

JIJI, Kyodo

Fierce public opposition to the restart of halted atomic reactors because of the nation’s worst nuclear plant crisis has effectively led to the indefinite shutdown of all commercial reactors.

The last to switch off, reactor 3 at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear plant, went offline early Sunday after halting electricity output Saturday.

Its shutdown was part of a regular schedule for routine checks.

Because of public safety concerns, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been unable to get any idled reactors restarted since Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant suffered three meltdowns in March last year.

The Noda administration apparently initially underestimated local opposition to its hope to get reactors 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture restarted.

The administration first assumed it merely needed the host local governments’ nods, including that of Fukui Prefecture, to get the two reactors restarted after they both went offline for routine checks and subsequently passed the initial phase of state-mandated disaster-survivability stress tests.

The administration instead faced outright opposition to any restart of the Oi reactors coming from different quarters, including from Shiga, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures as well as from the city of Osaka.

Shiga and Kyoto prefectures are both within 30 km of the Oi plant, while the city of Osaka and its prefecture lie within a 100-km radius of the reactors.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has been especially critical of the decision by Noda and industry minister Yukio Edano to press ahead with the restart of the Oi reactors.

The popular Hashimoto, head of the regional Isshin no Kai (One Osaka), which is aiming to field candidates in the nation’s next general election, has urged voters to send the ruling Democratic Party of Japan packing over the issue.

Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada has also expressed her reluctance to support the reactors’ restart, despite government efforts to persuade her.

Ruling party lawmakers have even joined the chorus, with some noting it may no longer be possible to restart the Oi reactors.

This leaves Japan facing the prospect of a summer with no nuclear reactors in operation.

Despite public sentiment against restarting reactors, businesses that were forced to take power-saving steps that caused serious disruptions last summer are prioritizing a stable energy supply.

Hiromasa Yonekura, head of Keidanren, has called for restart of reactors that clear the stress tests, concerned about the economic impact of the nation going a prolonged period without nuclear power, especially during summer, the time of peak power demand.

Yonekura also said utilities have boosted the capacity of their thermal power plants, but “that will do little to help stabilize power supplies” that are essential for businesses.

Makoto Yagi, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, said in a statement: “We will try to regain trust from society, especially from the areas hosting nuclear plants, and continue making utmost efforts so we can restart nuclear plants as soon as possible.”

Local leaders, meanwhile, offered mixed reactions.

Tomari Mayor Hiroomi Makino has called for the restart of reactors at the Tomari plant.

“We’re worried about the safety of nuclear reactors following the Fukushima accident, but we want an early reactivation” of the Tomari plant, Makino said, citing the economic benefits of hosting the plant for his village.

“I feel sorry. That’s all,” said a 73-year-old retired senior official with Hokkaido Electric Power Co.

“If we lose nuclear plants, efforts by the people who were involved in their construction . . . what was that all about?”

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu criticized the government’s response to the Fukushima crisis, saying it “is vacillating between (the need for) safety and (the need to ensure a) stable power supply, and it is unable to win over the public.”

Shizuoka Prefecture hosts the Hamaoka nuclear plant on the Pacific coast, which was idled on the government’s orders last spring over concerns about a powerful earthquake predicted to hit the area in the next 30 years and its apparent insufficient defenses against such a catastrophic event, as was the case at Fukushima No. 1.