Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stressed Friday that restarting the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture is crucial to meet the nation’s energy needs this summer and to ensure sustainable economic growth in the longer term.
“If we end (nuclear power generation) or if we continue to avoid reactivating reactors,” everything will grind to a standstill, Noda told a news conference.
Noda also assured the public that reactors 3 and 4 at the Oi facility, which the government is pushing hard to put back online, have been secured and pose no safety risk even if the plant is rocked by a major earthquake or inundated by tsunami.
“We have established systems that ensure (severe) accidents won’t occur,” Noda said. “We have appropriate countermeasures in place. Even if the reactors lose their entire electricity supply, their cores won’t suffer meltdowns.”
The last of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors was shut down last month because of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. But Noda’s comments Friday may signal the nation’s nuclear-free days are drawing to an end.
The Fukui Prefectural Government’s nuclear safety commission is expected to swiftly file a report to Gov. Issei Nishikawa, who is likely to approve a resumption of operations at Oi in the coming days now that Noda has publicly announced the central government’s stance.
The municipal assembly, which last month declared it would consent to restarting the reactors to rejuvenate its crippled economy, is also expected to approve the move.
In such an event, Noda could call a Cabinet meeting next week to officially instruct Kansai Electric Power Co. to fire up the two reactors at Oi. Kepco said it would take approximately six weeks for the units to reach maximum capacity.
Still, those demanding an overhaul of Japan’s nuclear policy continue to argue that reactivating the reactors before the probe into the Fukushima triple-meltdown disaster has even been completed poses too much of a risk.
When asked about opposition to the move, Noda reiterated that appropriate measures have been taken to secure the Oi reactors’ safety.
Prior to the news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters the government will make a final decision “after weighing the influence that resuming operations at nuclear plants will have on the economy and on the lives of the public.”
But with energy consumption likely to start peaking from next month, Noda’s government is desperate to restart the Oi plant. Almost 30 percent of Japan’s electricity was supplied by nuclear power before the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Reactor 3 at the Oi power station, located on the Sea of Japan coast, has remained offline since March 18 last year, and reactor 4 since July 22.
However, the Nuclear Safety Commission in March approved the results of stress tests that showed the plant would be able to withstand powerful earthquakes and tsunami.
Kansai Electric said its own tests show the Oi facility is 1.8 times more resistant to temblors than required by government safety standards, and could withstand tsunami of up to 11.4 meters.