The No. 3 reactor at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear power plant, which had been undergoing regular inspection, resumed commercial operation on Aug. 17 after Gov. Harumi Takahashi gave her approval. Thus as far as the formality is concerned, it became the first to resume commercial operation since the major accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Under a government policy, reactors that have been undergoing regular inspection must be put to a first round of stress tests and all the reactors then must undergo a second round of stress tests.

But it is not that the Tomari reactor was put to a stress test. It started going through regular inspection on Jan. 5, was reactivated on March 7 and soon began an “adjustment operation,” or an operation almost at full capacity on a test mode. Such an operation usually lasts about a month. But the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency could not easily give the reactor a final check due to resistance by Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Thus the de-facto commercial operation without a final check continued for more than five months.

To end an irregular situation, it was arranged that the Nuclear Safety Commission should double-check the final check by NISA. This made it easy for the governor to give her final approval. But the safety commission’s double-check was perfunctory.

Tomari village and its three adjacent municipalities accepted her approval. But it must be remembered that an active fault lies near the Tomari plant. Mayor Fumio Ueda of Sapporo, which is 60 km to 70 km from the Tomari nuclear power plant, said that the governor should have listened to the opinions of more municipalities.

NISA and the other power companies should not use the resumption of a commercial operation of the Tomari No. 3 reactor as a stepping-stone for restarting other reactors. The additional safety measures for reactors earlier devised by NISA and adopted by the power companies after the Fukushima accidents are no more than make-shift measures. In addition, 19 of Japan’s power reactors are more than 30 years old. Each reactor must be strictly scrutinized. More importantly, the government should work out a timeline to phase out nuclear power generation.

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