The Nos. 2 and 3 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power plant in the town of Genkai, Saga Prefecture, may be restarted this summer. After meeting with trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda, who visited the prefecture last week, Mayor Hideo Kishimoto of Genkai approved the restart plan and Gov. Yasushi Furukawa said that the reactors’ safety was confirmed. Gov. Furukawa, who had been careful about restarting the reactors, changed his position in less than 30 minutes after he met with Mr. Kaieda. In explaining the change of his stance, he said that he gave importance to Mr. Kaieda’s statement that the government will take responsibility for the safety of nuclear power plants. (The governor is expected to make a final decision in mid-July).
But how can the government take such responsibility? Mr. Kaieda’s statement means almost nothing. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, supposedly a regulator of nuclear power industry, is under the wing of his ministry, which has been pushing nuclear power generation. Following the accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, power companies have taken measures to deal with tsunami and severe accidents at NISA’s instruction.
But the measures are all short-term makeshift measures, like deployment of power generation vehicles and fire engines, securing of power supplies to the central control room during an emergency and steps to prevent hydrogen explosions. The government has yet to announce what it will do with Japan’s 19 reactors that are more than 30 years old. Ten reactors — three of them at Fukushima No. 1, and including the Genkai No. 1 reactor — are more than 35 years old.
Clearly the Genkai mayor approved the restart because his town structurally has no alternative but to continue to rely on money from power industry and the government. Nuclear power-related subsidies and property tax payment from the power plant account for some 60 percent of the town’s fiscal 2011, ¥5.7 billion budget.
Nuclear power generation may be necessary to overcome this summer’s power shortage. But the government must present a long-term, concrete plan to phase out nuclear power generation. At the least, it should strictly examine what kinds of weak points each reactor has and announce the results to help them take necessary measures.
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