Japan hoping to announce restart of Ohi nuclear power plant as soon as next week

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At the time of the Fukushima crisis, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan called on Japan to move past a future with nuclear power. The government of current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has softened Kan’s call, saying Japan cannot afford to be nuclear free.

The Pro-Nuclear Noda has scrambled in recent weeks to persuade local leaders to allow the restart of the two reactors in Fukui, despite not addressing the exposed nuclear-safety flaws after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.  The Fukushima disaster has emphatically showed that regions once considered a safe distance from reactors are also at risk of contamination.

Japan’s government has been struggling to restart the Ohi nuclear plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co, the Japanese utility most reliant on nuclear power, and has expressed hope that it may be able to announce the intent to restart as early as next week, if it can win the final consent of host municipalities.

Noda met his cabinet ministers in charge of nuclear issues on Wednesday: Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, Economy and Industry Minister Yukio Edano and Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono.  Noda has sent his ministers to communities around the Ohi plant to argue that current guidelines are enough to guarantee the plants’ safety.

There is no need to restart this last reactor in terms of Japanese energy needs. The entire discussion is a political one. Japanese leaders are aware that the longer the nation’s nuclear reactors are shutdown, the harder it will be to ever restart them.  But the government been unable to establish a clear timetable for getting nuclear power back up and running as it tries to navigate the crippling public opposition.

Japan’s leaders have made increasingly desperate attempts in recent months to convince the hosts to allow the restart of the reactors.  The latest promises from the government propose linking the Ohi plant directly to its operator and the Prime Minister’s office in a three-way teleconference system. A senior government official would also be stationed in Ohi Town.

The central government is often quoted claiming that safety must come first, but when discussing restarts, the focus is always put more on supply and demand rather than safety. How can safety be assured when projections by the nation’s own safety engineers that “the older assumptions might be mistaken” has no effect on the operation of nuclear reactors?  Especially while the nation’s security watchdogs each have multiple functions that can easily be viewed as having conflicting goals.

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