Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may face difficulty restarting the nation’s idled nuclear reactors if his Liberal Democratic Party fares poorly in the House of Representatives election on Dec. 14.
The Abe administration said it will reactivate any units confirmed safe by the new testing regime set up by the fledgling Nuclear Regulation Authority in July 2013. The NRA replaced the previous regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, after the March 2011 triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant revealed watchdog was too cozy with the industry.
The government claims that Japan needs to restart the reactors to prevent electricity rates from rising further and hampering the economy. Depending on the election results, it might have a tough time gaining consent for restarts from municipalities that host reactors.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimates that the cost of procuring fuel for thermal power generation will climb ¥12.7 trillion between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2014, which ends next March.
Although the price of oil has recently been sinking, the jump in fossil fuel costs since the Fukushima crisis, exacerbated by the Bank of Japan’s weakening of the yen, have prompted several utilities to raise rates.
New METI chief Yoichi Miyazawa has said that reactors should be reactivated for the sake of the public if confirmed safe.
The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture are expected to be the first to go back online because they passed the new safety tests in September. In November, Miyazawa visited municipalities in Kagoshima in a bid to gain public consent for restarting the two units.
The No. 3 and No. 4 reactors as Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture are in the final stage of the NRA’s screening process.
But a senior METI official said that political turbulence must be kept to a minimum first. “Only a stable government can push ahead with the restart policy” because many people are now opposed to nuclear power, the official said.