OSAKA - Kyushu Electric Power Co. received approval from the Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly and governor on Friday to restart two nuclear reactors at the Sendai power plant.
The move clears the last major political hurdles to bring Japan’s first two reactors back online, under new nuclear safety regulations introduced in July 2013.
However, some towns and villages that lie within 30 km of the plant have doubts about the restart and are demanding they, too, be consulted as part of promises by the central government and the utility to seek local consensus prior to restarting the units.
“I decided that the restart of the two reactors could not be avoided,” Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito told a news conference Friday afternoon.
The assembly’s vote to proceed with the reactivation had long been expected. It follows a judgment in September by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the industry watchdog, that the two reactors had met the new safety regulations, and an overwhelming agreement less than two weeks ago by the mayor and city council of Satsumasendai, which hosts the plant, to restart the reactors.
Of the 49 members of the prefectural assembly, 35 are from the Liberal Democratic Party and three are from Komeito. Both parties agreed to the restart.
Satsumasendai Mayor Hideo Iwakiri and Gov. Ito had long made it clear they were in favor of the plan, despite opposition and concern among other municipalities within 30 km of the plant over the possibility of a nearby volcanic eruption, as well as criticism from anti-nuclear activists about the lack of detailed evacuation plans.
Ichikikushikino, which has about 30,000 residents, lies within the 30-km radius and parts of the city are only 5.4 km from the plant. City officials were angry at Ito for his stance that as long as Satsumasendai consented to a restart, sufficient local approval had been obtained.
“Our city is a local government that sits right next to (the Sendai) nuclear power plant. As a city whose trust and deep understanding for the restart should be gained in the same way as the city hosting the reactors, and considering how close we are, you should take into account the voices of the people in surrounding municipalities,” Ichikikushikino Mayor Seiichi Tabata wrote in a three-page letter sent to the governor on Thursday.
Tabata called on Ito to consider the safety of the Sendai reactors as well as the inadequacy of current evacuation plans for nearby municipalities, expressing the fears of many area residents that in the event of an accident at the plant, especially one involving a natural disaster that blocked off access roads, escape would be impossible.
At his news conference, however, Ito said he had no problem with local evacuation plans. “The plans drawn up by the central government for evacuation are concrete and logical,” he said.
That prompted a reply from the Ichikikushikino mayor Friday evening, who said Ito should try to dispel local concerns and pressure the central government and Kyushu Electric on safety measures.
For Satsumasendai, restarting the two units also means resuming the flow of state funding. Between 1974 and 2013, the city received over ¥27 billion in central government subsidies for hosting the plant.
The plant’s No. 1 and 2 reactors, which have been offline since the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima meltdowns, generate 890 megawatts each. Reactor 1 went into operation in 1984, and reactor 2 the following year.
However, the units are unlikely to resume operation until sometime early next year, as the NRA has not completed its screening process.