The Japanese government’s push to restart nuclear reactors now depends on the establishment of provisional safety standards, but even that may not be enough to win over local governments and residents.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on April 3 ordered the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) to draft the provisional standards before the government decides on whether to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.
The order came after opposition from neighboring prefectures, such as Shiga and Kyoto, effectively forced the Noda administration to retract its policy to bring the reactors back online at an early date to avoid power shortages in summer.
“We will confirm specialized, scientific evaluations that have been conducted,” Noda told a meeting of related Cabinet ministers on April 3. “We want to judge, from the viewpoint of the public, whether the safety required for the restarts has been secured.”
At a news conference on April 4, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said NISA will present the provisional safety standards at the next ministerial meeting this week.
"We will put a lot of effort into this over the coming day or two," he said.
The Fukui prefectural government has been calling on the government to present provisional safety standards that incorporate lessons from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
New, legally binding safety standards were supposed to be drawn up by a new nuclear regulatory agency. But the Diet has not even started deliberations on a bill to establish the agency because the ruling and opposition parties differ over its level of independence from the Cabinet.
The government was forced to abandon plans to replace NISA with the new agency on April 1.
That leaves the new standards in the hands of NISA, which has come under fire for its pro-nuclear stance and has been largely distrusted since the Fukushima nuclear accident started in March last year.
“(The government) has not been able to keep pace with changes in the framework after the Fukushima accident,” Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who is opposed to restarting the Oi reactors under the current circumstances, said on April 3. “The government can go ahead with (the restarts) on its own responsibility and hear the voice of the public in a (Lower House) election.”
The city of Osaka is the top shareholder of Kansai Electric Power Co., operator of the Oi nuclear power plant. The energy strategy council of the Osaka municipal and prefectural governments has called for eight conditions for restarting the Oi reactors, including a wholesale review of the safety standards.
It has become increasingly difficult for the central government to override opposition among local politicians and residents because the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has been thrown into confusion over the bill to increase the consumption tax hike. Dozens of tax hike opponents have submitted their resignations from party posts.
"We have to decide on restarting the reactors by taking into consideration whether it could throw the government out of power," a Cabinet minister said.
Industry minister Yukio Edano, who attended the April 3 meeting with Noda, nuclear accident minister Goshi Hosono and Fujimura at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, indicated it would be a long process before any decision is made on restarting reactors.
“We cannot tell when we can reach a conclusion,” Edano told reporters after the meeting. “Even if the safety is confirmed, it will take some time before we can gain a degree of understanding from the public, including local residents.”
On March 22, Kazuharu Kawase, mayor of Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, told Edano that he would be unable to make a decision on restarting the reactors until the nuclear regulatory agency is established.
Hirohiko Izumida, governor of Niigata Prefecture, has said the prefectural government cannot accept stress tests, which lack legal grounds, as a condition for restarting reactors shut down for regular maintenance.
“There is no point in commenting on a government judgment on the safety of restarts without verifying the Fukushima accident,” Izumida told a prefectural assembly meeting in March. “It should be ignored.”
Niigata Prefecture hosts the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
In March, NISA compiled a package of 30 countermeasures based on the Fukushima accident. The government planned to have the nuclear regulatory agency compile the safety standards because NISA failed to prevent the accident.
The countermeasures included installing emergency power sources in multiple locations. The legal standards would stipulate details, such as the specifications and locations of emergency power sources.
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