Businesses are ratcheting up pressure to bring more nuclear reactors back online after successfully lobbying for the first restarts since the disaster in Fukushima Prefecture last year.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s about-face effectively led to a government decision on June 16 to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
A meeting between Hashimoto and Shosuke Mori, chairman of the Kansai Economic Federation, at a Japanese restaurant in Osaka’s Nishi Ward on May 15 set the stage for the restarts.
Hashimoto, who was a leading opponent to restarts, sat across from Mori, who is also chairman of Kansai Electric Power Co., operator of the Oi plant.
Hashimoto was accompanied by Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui, a close ally.
Mori spent more than an hour arguing for restarting the Oi reactors, referring to documents projecting a 15.7-percent power shortage in July in the Kansai region.
At a drinking session in a separate room, Hashimoto and Matsui said, “Operate the reactors only in summer if it is absolutely necessary,” according to sources.
Mori immediately ruled out the option.
On May 19, nuclear policy minister Goshi Hosono attended a meeting of the Union of Kansai Governments. Hashimoto said: “There are many ways to restart reactors if it is necessary to meet power demand. One way is to operate them on a temporary basis until safety standards are established.”
In a statement on May 30, the Union of Kansai Governments called on the central government to make an “appropriate judgment” on the assumption that reactivation is a “limited” response.
Hashimoto told reporters that the association has effectively approved restarts.
Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada, another opponent to restarts, was among the governors behind the statement.
“I gave consideration to a grievous cry from businesses that they cannot do (without Oi reactors) this summer,” Kada said.
During a meeting with Kada in May, representatives from six economic organizations in the prefecture said rolling blackouts will force small businesses to suspend operations and asked who will take responsibility for unintended blackouts.
Kada said glass and semiconductor industry officials asked her almost daily to drop her opposition, describing restarts as a “life-and-death issue.”
The two industries account for about half of corporate tax revenues in the prefecture.
Kada said many people, disappointed with the statement from the Union of Kansai Government, asked her if she suddenly had a change of heart.
She acknowledged that it was a close call.
Electric power companies are already lobbying Diet members to restart other reactors as soon as possible.
“We will be in trouble if they mistakenly think reactors after Oi can wait until next summer,” said a utility employee in charge of political affairs.
Since the last reactor in Japan was shut down on May 5, utilities around the country have lobbied Tokyo’s Nagatacho district to get Diet members to enact a bill to set up a new nuclear regulatory agency, which would authorize restarts after Oi.
The companies believe that restarting reactors is necessary not only to avoid summer power shortages but also to continue their core operations.
A utility needs 200 million yen to 300 million yen ($2.5 million to $3.8 million) a day for petroleum or natural gas for thermal power generation to make up for a suspended nuclear reactor. Industry-wide fuel costs for thermal power plants will increase by 3 trillion yen a year.
The nine electric power companies that operate nuclear plants reported 1.5 trillion yen in combined losses in fiscal 2011.
Banks will provide 1 trillion yen to Tokyo Electric Power Co. to help rebuild its operations on condition that the company will raise electricity rates and restart nuclear reactors.
Other utilities are also under pressure from banks to restart their reactors to stabilize their operations.
Not only utilities, but also host governments, will bear the brunt if reactors are decommissioned.
On June 15, industry minister Yukio Edano was asked at the Diet how to reduce the adverse impact from decommissioning on local communities.
Edano said the government will have to take on greater responsibility than it did when Japan ended coal production. Nuclear plants, unlike coal mines, were set up at the request of the central government.
A senior industry ministry official said the government will face a number of difficult issues, “like a domino effect,” if it reviews its nuclear policy.
Some measures will require government spending, such as assistance for employment and finances in local communities and disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
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