Edano: Not up to government to decide reactor restarts

September 29, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Whether Japan's idled reactors should resume power generation is a decision others must take, not the central government, the industry minister has said.

Reactors will be fired up only on certain conditions: "If the Nuclear Regulation Authority has given a green light to safety and if local governments have shown their understanding," Yukio Edano said, addressing a Sept. 28 news conference.

His comments suggest individual reactors will need to clear safety checks by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and then power companies will need to approach local governments to obtain their approval.

The government inaugurated the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Sept. 19 as its new nuclear watchdog. It replaced the former Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, as part of moves to create more independent oversight of an industry blamed for the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Only two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors are currently active: the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.

When the central government decided in June to bring the Oi reactors back online, it held a meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers to endorse both the reactors' safety and the need for the power they could generate. The meeting included Edano and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

The central government had already obtained the approval of local governments hosting the Oi plant, and the plant operator restarted the two reactors in July.

As for possible forthcoming restarts, Edano emphasized that the Nuclear Regulation Authority has a high degree of independence and is well-placed to judge reactors' safety.

The central government "is in no position to declare that they are safe," Edano said. He said power utilities would be responsible for gaining the approval of local governments.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference Sept. 28 that the Cabinet committee that endorsed the Oi restarts was an ad hoc institution, using temporary procedures.

"We will revert to normality now that the Nuclear Regulation Authority is in place," Fujimura said.

The new restart procedures will be almost identical to those used before the Fukushima disaster.

But observers note one thing may have changed.

At the time of the Oi reactor restarts, the Fukui prefectural government demanded that the central government try to gain public understanding of the necessity of nuclear power.

That might have created a precedent, and local governments that host nuclear plants may now step up calls for central government involvement in the restart procedures.

"Local governments must be given proper explanations," Fujimura said. But it remains to be seen how much explanation, or how much responsibility to explain, Fujimura had in mind.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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The Oi nuclear power plant (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Oi nuclear power plant (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • The Oi nuclear power plant (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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