Kan under fire from his own team

Cabinet gets apology for flip-flop on reactor restart

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized to his Cabinet on Friday morning over the confusion he caused by his sudden order that “stress tests” be conducted on all nuclear power plants in Japan.

During a closed meeting with Cabinet ministers, various participants expressed dissatisfaction with Kan, who is now intent on holding the safety tests before now-idled reactors are restarted.

The administration scrambled to unify its policy and is expected to announce new safety guidelines, including the stress tests, as early as possible.

“My instruction was inadequate and came too late, and I feel responsible for this. I would like to offer my apology,” Kan was quoted as saying by national policy minister Koichiro Genba.

Public safety commission chairman Kansei Nakano urged Kan to come up with a coordinated safety policy.

“It is not good to continue giving off the impression that the Cabinet is inconsistent. I would like (Kan) to make efforts to unify” the government’s policy, Kansei said.

Just last month, industry minister Banri Kaieda said the reactors undergoing regular checkups cleared the safety criteria and asked local governments to reactivate them amid strong national concern over the radiation-spewing Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

But under the prime minister’s recent orders, Kaieda had to announce the government’s plan to conduct the stress tests, triggering confusion and anger among local governments and residents living near nuclear plants.

“I cannot continue to ask (for the restart of reactors) in this situation,” Kaieda said during a news conference Friday morning. He has expressed his intention to resign at some point to take responsibility over the confusion.

Amid uncertainty over the direction of the government, the resumption of reactors have been delayed, including two units at the Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture and one reactor at the Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture.

Before the goverment’s announcement about stress tests, the Genkai reactors were deemed highly likely to be resumed with the support of local leaders.

Of the nation’s 54 commercial reactors, 35 are not in operation for reasons including regular inspections and the effects of the March disaster, and none has resumed operations amid the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

“I am very sorry for causing concern and inconvenience to the people, especially those in Saga’s Genkai,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. “It is my responsibility for the overall coordination of the Cabinet . . . and I need to explain the situation clearly as soon as possible.”

Information from Kyodo added