Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced on June 8 that he has decided that operations at the Oi nuclear power plant need to be resumed and plans to hold a meeting soon with Cabinet ministers to make a final decision.
Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa is expected to consent to resumption of operations next week. Once that consent is received, Noda will hold a meeting of the relevant Cabinet ministers.
"I have made the decision to resume operations at (the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of) the Oi nuclear plant in order to protect the lifestyles of the people," Noda said at a news conference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on June 8. "After obtaining the understanding of the local government where the plant is located, I want to proceed with the procedures for resumption of operations."
Noda held the news conference because Nishikawa said he wanted the prime minister to explain to the public why the Oi plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. and located in Fukui Prefecture, had to go back online.
After last year's accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, reactors have stopped operations for periodic inspections. On May 5, the last operating reactor among Japan's 50 functional reactors shut down for maintenance.
The Oi reactors would be the first ones to go back online after the Fukushima nuclear accident.
In his news conference, Noda first touched upon the need for safety at the Oi reactors.
"Countermeasures and a structure to prevent an accident should an earthquake and tsunami on a scale that struck Fukushima occur have been put in place," he said.
About the 30 safety standards that were used to decide on resuming operations, Noda said, "The standards are provisional ones and will be reviewed after a new (nuclear regulatory) structure is established."
The ruling and opposition parties are continuing with discussions in the Diet to establish a new nuclear regulatory organization.
At the same time, Noda said it would be impossible to stop all nuclear power generation.
"Japanese society will not be able to function if we were to stop nuclear power generation, which accounts for 30 percent of the electricity supply," Noda said. "Nuclear energy is an important energy source from the standpoint of energy security."
The prime minister also referred to the estimate of a 15-percent electricity shortage in the Kansai region this summer and said, "That is a level that was not asked of eastern Japan last year. If rolling blackouts or sudden blackouts should occur, there would be major confusion in daily life and economic activity."
The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant led to various measures in eastern Japan to conserve and reduce electricity consumption last summer.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and the governors of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, which border Fukui Prefecture, have called for resuming operations at the Oi plant only for the summer.
However, Noda rejected that suggestion and said, "The lifestyles of the people cannot be protected if resumption was limited only to the summer."
Noda also expressed his gratitude to the local governments that have played host to the nation's nuclear power plants.
"It was Fukui Prefecture and Oi which have supported the Kansai region (in electricity supply)," he said. "We must renew our respect and gratitude to the host governments that have continued to supply electricity while facing the nuclear plants for more than 40 years."
The Fukui prefectural government has called for a special oversight structure and Noda said, "Such a structure will be established under the unified responsibility of the central government."
He added, "I will place a person in charge under my command to allow the central government and Kansai Electric to make the appropriate decisions in case of emergency."
He said his administration would compile a medium- and long-term energy basic plan that would define the ratio of electric power generation by source.
After Noda's news conference, Nishikawa, the Fukui governor, issued a statement that said, "I gravely took his comments as being addressed to the public and representing the fundamental thinking about nuclear energy on the part of the central government as well as the prime minister's own strong feelings. I will make a decision for the prefectural government after confirming the intentions of the host community and presenting requests to the plant operator."
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