Hashimoto shifts stance to allow restart of Oi nuclear reactors

June 01, 2012


After espousing a staunch anti-nuclear stance that included threats to bring down the ruling party, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said May 31 he would approve the restart of two reactors in neighboring Fukui Prefecture.

Hashimoto said his shift in stance was due to possible electricity shortages in the Kansai region this summer.

"It is extremely difficult as the individual in charge of local administration to have a precondition of a 15-percent shortage," the mayor said on May 31.

Due to periodic inspections and safety concerns following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Japan currently has no nuclear reactors online.

The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had been pushing for an early resumption of operations at the Oi nuclear power plant operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. in Fukui Prefecture. But Hashimoto and other local government leaders objected.

Even as late as the evening of May 30, the Osaka mayor said he was fundamentally opposed to resuming operations at the Oi nuclear plant.

But on the morning of May 31, Hashimoto told reporters: "It will not do to only speak in superficial terms. I am, in effect, approving (resumption of operations)."

Hashimoto started softening his stance somewhat on May 14, when the central government released its estimate of a 14.9-percent electricity shortage in the Kansai region if the Oi plant was kept idle.

The announcement was made after discussions within a committee examining electricity demand and supply that also included members of an experts committee put together by the Osaka prefectural and city governments.

Hashimoto indicated at that time that summer would roll around with no measures to deal with potential power shortages.

Earlier, he had been one of the most vocal critics of restarting the Oi reactors in the absence of greater safety measures.

In his campaign last November in the Osaka mayoral election, Hashimoto included a plank calling for a move away from a dependence on nuclear energy.

In April, when the central government decided on provisional safety standards to allow operations to resume at the Oi plant, Hashimoto lashed out, saying, "Judgments about safety should be done by experts and not politicians."

So when the central government declared the Oi plant safe based on the provisional standards, Hashimoto said he would work to topple Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan-led government.

The mayor also applied pressure on the Noda administration in other ways.

The Osaka prefectural and municipal governments put together a list of eight conditions that would have to be met before they would consent to the Oi plant going back online. Hashimoto also indicated that he would make the nuclear issue a central one in the next Lower House election.

At a May 19 meeting of local government officials in the greater Kansai region that was attended by Goshi Hosono, the state minister in charge of dealing with the accident at the Fukushima plant, Hashimoto proposed temporary operations of the Oi plant for the summer only.

"As long as the decision about safety is provisional, the logical conclusion would be to also limit the period during which the plant is operating," he said at that time.

Although central government officials showed consideration for the concerns raised by local government officials in the Kansai region, they did not back down from their position that resuming Oi plant operations was vital for the nation.

Hashimoto himself came under greater pressure at a meeting on May 15, when the heads of three Kansai regional economic organizations raised concerns about electricity shortages with the Oi reactors remaining idle.

Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada indicated on May 31 that she was leaning toward allowing the resumption of Oi plant operations. As governor of a prefecture bordering Fukui Prefecture, Kada had expressed strong opposition until now.

She also said the expected electricity shortage as well as concerns raised by local business leaders were the primary reasons she was changing her position.

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Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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