In a TV program recently aired by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reiterated his intention of forging ahead with plans to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
"I intend to take the leadership in making the final decision (on the matter)," he said. "The time for that decision is drawing near."
We wonder if Noda believes that the public's distrust of measures taken to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants has dissipated.
The reality is that the situation remains unchanged. The government should abandon its plan to bring the idled reactors back online in time for summer.
Noda's remarks mirror the government's expectation that Fukui Prefecture will agree to its plan to reactivate the reactor.
But what has the government done to meet Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa's demand that the plan be supported by local governments and communities in areas that consume electricity produced at the nuclear plant?
With the Union of Kansai Governments slated to hold a meeting on May 19, the governors of Kyoto, Shiga and other prefectures near the Oi plant remain reluctant to give the green light to the central government's plan.
Let's look back on how things have unfolded in the past 12 months.
The devastating accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant prompted the government led by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to switch from promoting nuclear power generation to reducing Japan's dependence on atomic energy. The government also pledged to undertake a fundamental review of nuclear safety regulations and the nuclear fuel cycle system.
Although plans for reforming related regulations and programs have been announced, few concrete steps have been actually taken, except for some provisional ones, such as emergency safety measures.
Symbolizing the lack of progress is the fact that the Diet is not yet ready to even start considering the government-drafted bills to establish a new nuclear regulatory agency, which was originally planned to be in place in April, and revise the law to set a legal lifespan of 40 years for reactors.
The task of regulating nuclear power plants is still left to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the Nuclear Safety Commission, even though their credibility has been totally destroyed. The "stress tests" to evaluate the safety of reactors against major earthquakes and tsunami have been carried out under the supervision of the two discredited organizations.
In tackling policy challenges created by the nuclear disaster, the government has tried to exercise political leadership in such an inept manner that its efforts have deepened public distrust of its nuclear power policy.
For instance, it had NISA cobble together makeshift safety standards in haste when the four ministers concerned were set to meet to decide on restarting the reactors.
Avoiding an acute power shortage is vital for the well-being of the people and the economy.
But many Japanese are apparently willing to make power-saving efforts to prevent a power crunch this summer. Their attitude toward the issue has been clearly indicated by the various surveys that have found strong public opposition to the government's plan to restart reactors.
On May 18, the government formally decided on a package of measures for curbing power consumption this summer.
A nationwide power-saving drive will be initiated in July. The government deserves credit for obtaining relevant data from electric utilities and assessing power supply and demand from an independent viewpoint.
The move means the government has set out to prepare the nation for a "summer without nuclear power" in recognition of public wariness about the safety of nuclear power generation.
If so, the government should focus its policy efforts on making sure that effective and efficient efforts to curb electricity consumption will be made to avoid a power crisis.
Then, the government should develop concrete plans to phase out nuclear power generation in Japan as soon as possible and push through a fundamental overhaul of nuclear safety regulations through legislative initiatives.
It is impossible for the government to win public support for restarting any offline reactors without taking these steps.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 19
- « Prev
- Next »