INTERVIEW: Kan blasts plan to restart Hamaoka nuclear plant

February 15, 2014


Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who effectively shut down the Hamaoka nuclear plant following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, criticized as “radically wrong” preparations to bring the facility back online.

In a Feb. 14 interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Kan said the precarious situation surrounding the nuclear plant in quake-prone Shizuoka Prefecture remains unchanged.

Chubu Electric Power Co. earlier in the day submitted an application with the Nuclear Regulation Authority for safety screenings of the No. 4 reactor at the Hamaoka plant, part of the process to restart operations there.

Located in Omaezaki, the Hamaoka plant lies directly above a source area for a predicted giant earthquake along the Nankai Trough, a 4-kilometer depression on the seabed that stretches 700 km from Suruga Bay off Shizuoka Prefecture to areas off eastern Kyushu.

Major temblors have taken place along the Nankai Trough throughout history.

Two months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011, Chubu Electric shut down the No. 4 and No. 5 reactors at the Hamaoka plant, based on a political decision by Kan, then prime minister from the Democratic Party of Japan.

The Abe administration currently plans to have the Hamaoka plant reactivated if the NRA confirms its safety.

But Kan said emergency evacuation plans have yet to be worked out, and that Japan “cannot afford to take a risk that could compromise the very existence of the nation.” Excerpts from the interview follow:


Question: Steps for bringing the Hamaoka nuclear plant back online are under way. How do you see the move?

Kan: (When the Fukushima nuclear disaster started,) it was estimated that a magnitude-8 earthquake could strike the area (around the Hamaoka plant) with an 87 percent probability within 30 years.

An accident at the Hamaoka plant would require evacuating millions of people, and it would also deal a big blow to Japan’s major arteries, such as the Tokaido Shinkansen Line and the Tomei Expressway, as well as Japan’s auto industry (clustered in the Tokai region).

I requested a shutdown because we were not ready for such a scenario. There has been no change whatsoever in that background situation. It is radically wrong to request safety screenings to prepare for a prospective restart.

Q: You used “extralegal” authority as prime minister to request the shutdown. What made you do so?

A: A nuclear accident, which people said would never happen, actually did happen. Was I supposed to say I would take care of the matter after getting all relevant laws ready at a time when a major earthquake could hit at any time, let’s say tomorrow? I made the political decision out of consideration for the safety and sense of security of the general public. As prime minister, I had no choice but to do so, and I was obligated to do so.

Q: Chubu Electric has built new coastal levees and has taken other safety measures. What do you think about those steps?

A: There are, roughly speaking, two types of safety measures for a nuclear plant. One pertains to technical measures to prevent an accident from being triggered by earthquakes and tsunami. The other is about how to evacuate residents and how to mitigate damage once an accident has happened. The NRA only makes decisions on the technical measures. It remains ambiguous who will be responsible for evacuations.

Neither the government nor Chubu Electric has said no accident would ever happen. We cannot afford to take a risk that could compromise the very existence of the nation, even if that could occur only once in a century. Damage would be particularly extensive if an accident were to take place at the Hamaoka plant.

Q: Candidates who called for an immediate departure from nuclear power generation, including former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, lost in the Tokyo gubernatorial election on Feb. 9. What is your take on that?

A: It is not that people have forgotten the fright they experienced at the time (of the Fukushima nuclear disaster), but they are being kept in the dark. It was by sheer chance that water remained (covering fuel assemblies) in the spent fuel storage pool at the Fukushima No. 1 plant’s No. 4 reactor building.

A compelling sense of fright about Tokyo being rendered uninhabitable is, unfortunately, not shared among the general public. Hosokawa and former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (who backed Hosokawa in the governor’s race) both probably had an acute fear of a catastrophic disaster precisely because they have served as prime minister and asked themselves what they could have done.

(This article is based on an interview by Takashi Ebuchi and Daisuke Fukuma.)

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Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan talks to The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 14. (Hitoshi Kujiraoka)

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan talks to The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 14. (Hitoshi Kujiraoka)

  • Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan talks to The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 14. (Hitoshi Kujiraoka)
  • Construction of a coastal levee is under way at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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