Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he would mobilize the "entire government" to persuade local leaders to accept the restart of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, after getting the all-clear on the restart from his nuclear safety officials.
The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan (NSC) effectively completed the technical assessment the government says is necessary to guarantee the safety of the Oi reactors by endorsing on March 23 the results of initial stress tests on the reactors.
But Noda’s administration, which has pushed strenuously for an early restart of idle reactors to prevent power shortages this summer, faces a far harder task of getting the support of local politicians, some of whom have already publicly opposed the move.
Noda said: "When we approach local governments, the entire government will have to become involved and I intend to stand in the forefront of such efforts."
Yukio Edano, the economy, trade and industry minister, is expected to visit the municipalities that host the Oi plant in early April to make the case for the safety of the reactors and win acceptance of a resumption of operations.
Cabinet ministers concerned with energy issues are expected to confirm the safety of the two reactors at the Oi plant operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. this coming week. Central government officials are likely to begin meeting with local government officials from early April.
In addition to concerns about power shortages this summer, central government officials fear that any delay in the restart of the Oi plant could lead to further delays at other plants, including the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture, that are next in line in the safety confirmation process.
If those plants do not resume operations, there is a strong likelihood that Japan could have no nuclear reactors in operation in the near future.
An official at the prime minister's office said: "Unless there is the possibility of resuming operations by May, we may be forced to ask that summer vacation be pushed back."
If the backing of the local communities is obtained, the relevant ministers are then expected to meet again to formally approve a resumption of operations.
They are first expected to give their blessing to the NSC judgment before formally considering whether operations should resume at the Oi plant.
But getting the crucial local backing may be extremely difficult.
Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada said on March 23: "What lessons about safety have been learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident? I believe it is still too early (to confirm the safety of the Oi plant)."
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, whose municipal government is a major shareholder in Kansai Electric, is preparing to submit a proposal to the company asking it to consider moving into new business areas as a step toward reducing dependence on nuclear energy.
On March 23, Hashimoto made clear his opposition to any move to resume operations at the Oi plant.
"If the Democratic Party of Japan government moves toward a resumption of operations, Osaka city will present its option of opposing it," Hashimoto said.
Meanwhile, Haruki Madarame, the NSC chairman, has been consistently questioning the government stance that the endorsement of the results of initial stress tests delivered by his organization on March 23 is sufficient to go ahead with the restart at Oi.
The NSC’s statement on March 23, the first of its type since the Great East Japan Earthquake, officially endorsed a decision by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency that the initial evaluation of the results of stress tests conducted at the two reactors at the Oi plant were appropriate. The central government made such stress tests a precondition for a resumption of operations at nuclear plants.
However, Madarame is insisting from the very heart of Japan’s nuclear establishment that the initial assessment is insufficient to determine the safety of a plant.
On March 23, he said: "I hope there is an evaluation of more realistic actual figures."
Madarame argues the secondary evaluation should involve, among other things, an appraisal of the effectiveness of measures to deal with possible nuclear accidents and a precondition that an anti-quake emergency control room has been constructed at each nuclear plant.
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