A recent Asahi Shimbun survey found strong public sentiment against the government’s plan to restart two idled reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO).
Even in Fukui Prefecture, where the plant is located, 40 percent of respondents voiced opposition to the plan. In the six prefectures in the Kinki region, which is served by the utility, more than half of the people polled were opposed to the move. Nearly 80 percent of respondents in the Kinki region, who are consumers of electricity generated by KEPCO, said they were willing to reduce their own power consumption and accept rolling blackouts if necessary due to a power crunch in summer.
In addition, majorities of respondents in Fukui Prefecture and in the Kinki region said the consent of local communities other than those in the prefecture should also be obtained for the decision to bring the reactors back online. More than 60 percent of the polled residents in the prefecture also stated they didn’t trust the safety standards that are used as criteria for deciding to resume reactor operations.
The poll findings underscore the fact that there is not much public support for the government’s move toward restarting the reactors.
The government’s plan to restart the reactors could run into a brick wall if it keeps trying to secure the consent of local governments without showing the flexibility to modify the plan in response to their opinions. The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda needs to confront the realities of deep anxiety about the safety of the reactors among local residents and governments in the region.
There was and will be some related developments this week. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry sent a senior vice minister to Shiga and Kyoto prefectures on April 23 to win the local governments’ support for the reactor restart plan. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui will meet with Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on April 24. On April 26, the governors of the seven prefectures that form the Union of Kansai Governments will hold a meeting.
Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka have put forward a set of eight proposals for the resumption of reactor operations. The governors of the Kyoto and Shiga prefectures have jointly made a set of seven recommendations concerning the issue.
They are calling on the government to present reasons for believing that stopgap measures will ensure the safety of the reactors and to publicize a road map for terminating Japan’s dependence on nuclear power generation. They also demand that the estimates of power supply and demand made by the government and the utility be examined and evaluated by an independent committee of experts. Most of their proposals reflect concerns among the people about the government’s reactor plan.
Underlying the two sets of proposals are such common questions as why the government is rushing to restart the reactors before any permanent safety measures are taken and how urgent is the need to restart them to secure enough power to meet demand.
The accident at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant shattered the “safety myth” about nuclear power generation systems and destroyed the credibility of nuclear safety standards and regulations. To ensure a viable future for nuclear power generation by solving the formidable challenges created by the nuclear disaster, it is indispensable to regain public confidence in nuclear safety regulations as well as to swiftly add new safety measures.
The government should take this lesson to heart and give serious consideration to the proposals from people and local authorities in the region served by KEPCO.
A government committee tasked with making objective reviews of the estimates about power demand and supply around the nation held its first meeting on April 23. How great could a power shortage be this summer? How sharply would businesses and households have to reduce their power consumption to ride out the crunch? We hope the panel will fully disclose information concerning such questions and come up with a wide range of options through exhaustive debate.
Still, the poll findings indicate it will be extremely difficult to regain public confidence in the safety of nuclear power generation by summer. It would probably be wiser for the government to direct more of its efforts toward preparing for the possibility of no nuclear reactors operating in summer by promoting power-saving and other effective steps to minimize the impact of such a situation on people’s lives and the economy.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 24
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