FUKUI--The central government’s push for the restart of the Oi nuclear power plant cleared a major local hurdle as Fukui Prefecture’s panel of experts has accepted its provisional safety guidelines despite mounting and heated public opposition.
The panel evaluating the safety of nuclear plants concluded in a meeting on June 10 that the central government’s provisional guidelines are appropriate and that measures to safeguard the idled No. 3 and No. 4 reactors are in place.
"Necessary steps are in place to deal with expected quake and tsunami based on the lessons from the Fukushima accident," the panel said.
The session at the Fukui prefectural government office was to be open to the public.
But the 11-member panel discussed the issue before an empty 50-seat gallery after some of the 69 people in attendance loudly demanded that everyone be admitted and refused to back down.
Hideyuki Nakagawa, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of Fukui who chairs the panel, finalized a report to endorse the safety of the reactors based on a 65-page draft report. He submitted it to Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa on June 11.
Mayor Shinobu Tokioka of Oi, a town where the plant is situated, will likely announce his support for the resumption of operation of the reactors.
Nishikawa is expected to inspect the plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., before he issues his endorsement. The prefectural assembly is expected to leave the decision to him.
In the session on June 10, the panel concluded that the central government’s provisional guidelines have incorporated lessons learned and knowledge gained from last year’s accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
However, the Oi plant is not equipped with a quake-proof facility from where an emergency task force could respond to and oversee an accident, unlike the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
But the panel decided that Kansai Electric’s plan to use a room near the central control room of the plant as an emergency command center until a new facility is built will be adequate.
The utility plans to finish construction of the facility by March 2016.
While the panel accepted the provisional guidelines, it highlighted four points to enhance safety: steady implementation of precautionary measures; retaining and nurturing of nuclear experts; taking steps to deal with aging reactors; and securing ways and routes to reach the plant in the event of a disaster.
In response to concerns by some seismologists that faults beneath the plant could be active, officials from the industry ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told the panel that the fractures are unlikely to affect the plant’s ability to withstand a temblor.
Some panel members suggested in the session that its report should mention the necessity of having evacuation plans in place for residents living around the plant.
But Nakagawa ended the discussion, saying the panel should give him a free hand in compiling the report.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda emphasized on June 10 that his decision to call for the restart of the Oi plant is sound, calling opponents “idealistic.” He cited the need for the restarts to avert possible rolling blackouts in the Kansai region this summer and the impact those would have on the economy and society.
“If a blackout occurs, it will have a tremendous adverse impact,” Noda told the audience at a speaking engagement. “I made the decision from the viewpoint of protecting the lives of the public.”
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