Genkai mayor withdraws OK for two reactors' restart

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Genkai Mayor Hideo Kishimoto on Thursday officially retracted his controversial decision to approve the rebooting of two reactors at the Genkai nuclear plant and slammed the central government for ordering “stress tests” out of the blue following weeks of assurances about reactor safety.

The retraction, a political rather than legal necessity for doing the stress tests, creates an awkward situation for Kishimoto, who gave the go-ahead for restarting the reactors just Monday, leaving the final decision to Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa.

“Anger welled up in my heart after hearing Prime Minister Kan say that resumption will be based on the stress tests. It sounded like my decision was a waste,” Kishimoto said Thursday morning. “I would like to declare the withdrawal at the (town) assembly.”

Kishimoto was not alone in his frustration.

When Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano in Tokyo the same morning, he complained about the flip-flop over nuclear safety standards and questioned the timing of the government’s decision.

“I do respect the government’s decision to hold stress tests to ensure further confidence, but I cannot help but ask ‘Why now?’ ” Furukawa said to Edano.

Kishimoto, “who is generally a mild-tempered man, is extremely angry. . . . He said he does not know who to trust anymore,” Furukawa added.

The stress tests are to be conducted on all nuclear plants, but the sudden change in policy has exposed the government’s wavering confidence in atomic energy amid the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Exacerbating the situation is already high public distrust of the central government, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Japan’s entire nuclear regulatory regime.

Kishimoto was the first mayor since the nuclear crisis began in Fukushima Prefecture to permit the restart of a reactor.

His decision followed a high-profile meeting with industry minister Banri Kaieda, who claimed the safety of the two reactors in question had been confirmed.

But two days later, Kaieda, under orders from Prime Minister Naoto Kan, turned his world upside-down by announcing stress tests for all reactors nationwide to “offer a sense of assurance.”

Furukawa accused Kan and Kaieda of not being on the same page regarding nuclear energy policy.

“I think that there is a difference in the prime minister’s and minister Kaieda’s perception of nuclear policy, including the issue of resumption,” Furukawa said.

“Without a concrete government approach, there is nothing we can do.”

Edano apologized at the meeting and promised to coordinate government policy.

In the Upper House Budget Committee, Kaieda said he might resign to take responsibility for the confusion, although he did not specifically say when.

“I will take responsibility when the time comes,” he said in response to an opposition lawmaker’s demand that he step down.

At a later news conference, Edano stressed the need not only to reconfirm the safety of the plants, but also to make sure that the people feel assured about the results.

“The state has firmly confirmed the safety of the Genkai plant . . . (but) we are making efforts and being creative to reassure the people that it is safe,” Edano said.

“Once everything has been organized, we would like to inform you about the details as clearly as possible.”