National | ANALYSIS

Governors' moves muddle reactor restart bids

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Political moves by the governors of Kagoshima and Niigata over the last week, one sudden and one that was mostly expected, are likely to affect plans in both prefectures to restart or continue running nuclear reactors.

On Wednesday, Kyodo News reported that Kagoshima Gov. Satoshi Mitazono’s call for two reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant to be shut down over safety concerns would be rejected. Kyushu Electric said it expected to formally reply to the governor soon.

Mitazono, elected last month on an anti-nuclear platform, on Friday formally requested that the reactors at the Sendai plant be halted — a move unprecedented for a governor.

Still, even if Kyushu Electric does turn down his request to shut the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, as expected, both are due to go offline in about two months for regular inspections. That could lead to further legal maneuvers by the governor or anti-nuclear activists, who have cited concerns over earthquakes, volcanic activity and evacuation plans for his desire to permanently shutter the reactors.

Meanwhile, in Niigata Prefecture, the future of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s efforts to restart two reactors at the giant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant were thrown wide open by incumbent Gov. Hirohiko Izumida’s sudden announcement Tuesday that he would not stand for re-election. Izumida had long opposed restarting the plant’s No. 6 and No. 7 units until the full causes of the March 2011 triple meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant were made clear.

With Izumida’s pending departure, only Nagaoka mayor Tamio Mori so far has officially declared himself ready to replace him. Tadao Yabe, an unaffiliated Kashiwazaki assemblyman who opposes the restarts, said Mori is considered locally to be very much in the pro-nuclear camp and already has the support of some prefectural assembly members who want to see the reactors fired up again.

“The election is not until Oct. 16th, but Izumida’s sudden announcement has created a lot of confusion,” said Yabe. “The search is under way for a candidate to run against Mori.”

Restarts of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors are still a long way off, as they have yet to undergo the Nuclear Regulatory Authority’s new safety tests. But Yabe said if they were cleared for restart, various legal measures, including a petition seeking a temporary injunction against such a move, would be carried out.

Yabe added he did not think Izumida’s sudden decision not to run for re-election was specifically about the struggles to restart the reactors. The official reason for deciding not to seek re-election, as explained by the governor to reporters on Wednesday, was over his unhappiness with a report in the local Niigata Nippo newspaper that raised questions related to the sale by a prefecture-related entity of a used ferry boat that ran between Niigata and the Russian Far East.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5