Restart of construction on Oma nuke plant angers some, pleases locals

October 02, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

OMA, Aomori Prefecture--Construction of a nuclear reactor is soon to restart in this northern town, after a 19-month hiatus following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, delighting the host town but angering some surrounding communities.

Masayoshi Kitamura, president of Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power), the operator of the Oma nuclear plant site, on Oct. 1 attended the Oma town assembly, where he emphasized the significance of resuming construction. Oma residents mostly welcomed the news, while the mayor of a nearby city vowed to seek an injunction to stop construction.

"The Oma nuclear plant is an important power plant that will play a part in the nuclear fuel cycle," Kitamura told the Oma assembly.

While the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has a stated goal of pulling the plug on all nuclear power in the 2030s, that ambitious plan has been gutted by the government's go-ahead to resume construction on the Oma plant.

The Noda administration said, in a new energy strategy it released on Sept. 14, that it will seek to shut down all nuclear reactors by the 2030s. To achieve that goal, the strategy also set principles that the operational life of nuclear reactors will be limited to 40 years and that the building of new reactors will not be allowed.

However, the Oma plant skirts those principles and is being built anew. It will be impossible to end all nuclear power generation in the 2030s if the new plant is operated for 40 years after completion.

In addition, the Oma nuclear plant uses "mixed oxide (MOX) fuel," made of plutonium and uranium from reprocessed spent nuclear fuel, to generate power. It plans to be the world's first fully MOX-operated nuclear plant, where MOX accounts for all fuel in use.

Its construction requires the continuation of Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201209130089), whereby spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed for further use to promote the use of nuclear energy.

J-Power cashed in on the timing of inconsistencies in the government's nuclear policy, which remain unaddressed.

"We rushed the announcement of the construction resumption to forestall any policy change," one J-Power source said.

News of the restart of construction at the Oma nuclear plant site drew largely positive reaction in the host town of Oma.

"I will rush to your place to work as soon as the workers are back," an upbeat Oma resident told Takemi Kudo, an 82-year-old manager of the Oma-tei hotel, over the phone. It was just one of the many phone calls he received from people looking for part-time work.

Kudo and his family operate five accommodation facilities. The occupancy rate of his 85 guest rooms, which seldom dropped below 80 percent, plummeted to only 20 percent after construction on the nuclear plant was suspended and the workers disappeared.

Kudo previously employed 16 part-time workers, but he slashed that number by more than half. He also dismissed a cook and was considering going out of business at the end of this year.

Kudo could barely conceal his delight at the news. "We are finally seeing bright signs," he said.

Ryuji Hase, director of the Kitadori commerce and industry cooperative association, which organizes local enterprises, also was pleased.

"Local industry has been dependent on the nuclear plant," Hase said. "With construction halted for one and a half years, many enterprises were close to the limits they could sustain. News of the resumption has brought us major hope."

But residents on the other side of the Tsugaru Strait, in Hokkaido, were alarmed by the resumption of construction. In particular, the city government of Hakodate, part of which lies only 23 kilometers from the Oma plant, has called strongly for construction to be permanently halted.

Hakodate Mayor Toshiki Kudo was visibly sullen when an executive managing director and other officials of J-Power met him at the city hall on Oct. 1 and told him about the restart of construction.

"The central government's go-ahead for construction is based on the safety myth that prevailed before the Fukushima disaster," the mayor said. "Only 90,000 people live within 50 kilometers (of the nuclear plant) in Aomori Prefecture, but 370,000 do so in Hokkaido. Those 370,000 people have heard nothing."

Following the meeting, Kudo told a news conference he is preparing to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction on construction.

"We are contemplating if we could not file a lawsuit to raise several questions, including on constitutional personality rights," he said.

Kudo plans to join mayors of nearby municipalities to visit Tokyo as early as mid-October to call once again on the central government and other parties to freeze construction on the Oma plant.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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  • In this Sept. 12 photo, construction work still remains suspended at Electric Power Development Co.'s Oma nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture. (Gen Kaga)

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