Oi reactor restarts hinge on assembly, locals: Fukui governor

Nishikawa tells trade minister to consult with Kyoto, Osaka and host town's residents over resumption

Kyodo, Staff Report

Fukui Prefecture will determine whether to restart two idled reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi power plant after consulting the prefectural assembly and the town’s residents, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa warned industry minister Yukio Edano on Saturday.

Edano, who together with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and two other ministers agreed Friday that reactors 3 and 4 are safe enough to restart, traveled to the prefecture to drum up public support for the governor.

“It is necessary to use nuclear power as a major source of electricity,” Edano told Nishikawa.

During talks at Fukui’s prefectural offices, Nishikawa also asked Edano to approach local governments in Osaka and other prefectures that remain wary, such as Kyoto, to discuss the sensitive issue.

After the meeting, Edano told reporters he will press ahead with the reactivation plan and that he intends to explain the government’s decision in Kyoto and Shiga prefectures to win their approval as soon as possible.

Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada and Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, as well as the mayors of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, are all opposed to a quick restart.

On Friday, the mayors of several towns in northern Shiga Prefecture that lie within a 30-km radius of the Oi plant indicated that they, too, share Gov. Kada’s concerns about the lack of an adequate disaster response plan in the event of an emergency.

Following his meeting with Edano, Nishikawa told a news conference Saturday that the prefectural government has not set a specific date for deciding whether to approve the reactors’ reactivation.

Edano also met with Oi Mayor Shinobu Tokioka later the same day to explain the government’s decision, and Tokioka reportedly told the industry minister he would have to gain the consent of residents in the Kansai region before restarting the reactors.

Democratic Party of Japan members in the Kyoto Prefectural Assembly met with Yamada and Kansai Electric officials late last month and urged them to adopt a go-slow approach, stressing residents’ concerns over issues ranging from the safety of the reactors to local disaster response plans.

In Osaka, meanwhile, Mayor Toru Hashimoto, the region’s most vocal critic of restarting reactors, on Saturday stepped up his criticism of the ruling DPJ and experts who were formerly in charge of nuclear safety.

“Just because politicians say the reactor is safe doesn’t mean they have the ability to judge it’s safe. And while the Nuclear Safety Commission has spoken of the stress tests, they have never specifically used the word ‘safe,’ ” Hashimoto said Saturday morning.

Opposition to resuming operations at the Oi reactors is also growing overseas.

Avaaz.org, a global Web-based movement with campaigners in more than 30 countries, including Japan, and around 14 million supporters, on Friday launched a worldwide Internet campaign in English and Japanese to keep the Oi reactors offline, calling on the international community to petition Gov. Nishikawa and Mayor Tokioku to oppose a restart.

After taking local opinions into account, Noda, Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura and nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono are expected to make a final decision before July on whether to authorize the restart of the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant.

Since the March 2011 quake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis, no reactors shut down for periodic inspections have resumed operations. The two at the Oi plant are the first reactors the central government is trying to get back onstream.

Of Japan’s 54 commercial nuclear reactors, only the No. 3 reactor at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari power station is currently in operation. If none of the other units are restarted by May 5, when the Tomari reactor is scheduled to be shut down for an inspection, the nation will be left with no reactors in operation.