Saturday’s eruption of Mount Ontake is likely to set back plans to restart nuclear reactors in Kagoshima Prefecture and possibly elsewhere, as local governments and residents start debating how safe the plants would be in the event of a nearby volcanic eruption.
Concern is especially high in Kagoshima, home to 11 volcanos classified as active by the Meteorological Agency.
From January to March 2011, eruptions at Shinmoedake, part of the Mount Kirishima chain, closed four railroad lines and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority signed off on the safety of reactors 1 and 2 at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, a major step toward their planned restart.
The decision came after months of concern in Kagoshima about what would happen to the plant in the event of a volcanic eruption, but Kyushu Electric says Mount Ontake will not change its plans for Sendai.
“The scale of the eruption at Mount Ontake was small, whereas in our safety measures we looked at the possibility of large eruptions. So we don’t think there will be any effect on the plans to restart the Sendai reactors,” Kyushu Electric spokesman Yuki Hirano said Tuesday.
But pressure on the utility and pro-nuclear politicians in both Kagoshima and Tokyo to delay, or halt, the road to a Sendai restart is growing. On Sunday, organizers said an estimated 7,500 people gathered in the city of Kagoshima to protest the restart of the Sendai reactors, the largest demonstration of its kind the prefecture has ever seen.
“Concern about what would happen to the Sendai reactors in the case of a volcanic eruption is growing rapidly in the wake of the Ontake eruption,” said Yoshitaka Mukohara, head of Antinuclear Kagoshima Network.
Ardent pro-nuclear Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito has said the only two local government heads that need to agree to a restart of the reactors are himself and Satsumasendai Mayor Hideo Iwakiri, a strong advocate of turning the reactors back on.
Since 1974, Satsumasendai, a city of about 100,000 people, has received more than ¥23 billion in nuclear power subsidies.
But a rush by Ito to restart the reactors could prove politically difficult. There are nine other cities within 30 km of the nuclear plant, and some of them are opposed.
Ichikikushikino, a city of 31,000 residents 10 km from the plant and where opposition to the restart is strong, passed a resolution Tuesday calling on Ito to seek the agreement of local governments around the plant, especially those within 30 km of the reactors.