Japanese Prime Minister’s reiteration of need for atomic energy shows how hard the central government is willing to push to restart nuclear reactors

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Protesters shout slogans during an anti-nuclear plant rally in front of the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo, Friday, June 8, 2012 shortly after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Japan must restart two nuclear reactors to protect the economy and people's livelihoods in a news conference. The banners read "We strongly oppose restarting of the Ohi nuclear plant." (Itsuo Inouye / AP)

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, officials, scientists and experts have been questioning whether nuclear power can still be thought of as reliable, economic, or even safely managed.    The Japanese government however, is not likely to pledge to abandon atomic energy completely by 2050 even, given the clout of the nuclear industry.

In contrast, Japanese voters have grown wary of nuclear power since Fukushima, with surveys showing that about 70 percent want to abandon reliance on atomic energy even if not immediately.

Japan’s prime minister is desperately seeking for the reopening of the Ohi nuclear plant, saying Japan cannot do without atomic energy.

On Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda again pushed for restarting of the Ohi nuclear power plant, saying that a stable power supply is essential for daily life, in a stepped-up effort to secure public support and consent from Fukui Prefecture which hosts the plant.

He said major cities around the Ohi plant should thank local residents for their burden of supplying electricity to towns around the west, despite the safety concerns, apparently seeking to gain their understanding for the resumption.

Noda said the peak of energy demand for the summer is approaching, requiring “a quick decision.

“We should restart the Ohi No. 3 and No. 4 reactors in order to protect the people’s livelihoods,” Noda said. “The Japanese society cannot survive if we stop all nuclear reactors or keep them halted.”

He said two reactors should be restarted to support people’s lives, and ensure the “survival of society”, but stopped short of giving a direct order to restart.

The move, seen by many as another controversial push to bringing more reactors on line, could undermine Noda’s already sagging support among voters still worried about safety after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Residents have expressed frustration that the government hasn’t adopted a new disaster management policy more than a year after the Fukushima nuclear accident.  Japan’s government has yet to come up with new guidelines needed by municipalities around the country’s nuclear power plants to draw up plans for coping with serious nuclear accidents.

Around 1,000 people protested outside the prime minister’s office in central Tokyo after his news conference, chanting “We oppose restarts” and “Protect our children”. More were joining the crowd of office workers, mothers with children and elderly as they waved banners opposing nuclear power.

The government had been reluctant to arrange another news conference by Noda as it believed the prime minister had already explained the need for nuclear power in previous news conferences.

But the central government apparently shifted its stance to comply with the host prefecture’s request for the Prime Minister to make his stance clear to the public, as it wants to decide on the reactivation of the Oi reactors soon before electricity demand peaks.

“The overwhelming majority of the public do not want nuclear reactor restarts, and they are more than ready to work together and conserve power over the summer to remain nuclear free,” environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement.

“By ignoring them and continuing his reckless push to restart Ohi, Prime Minister Noda is compromising the health and safety of millions, and showing just how deep his government is in the pocket of the nuclear industry,” it said.

The Prime Minister mentioned that 2 of the 4 reactors at the Ohi plant should resume operation. The government hopes this can be done after local authorities give consent.  Noda said the government has taken ample safety measures to ensure the two reactors in western Japan would not leak radiation if an earthquake or tsunami as severe as last year’s should strike them.

With the Fukui governor’s consent, Noda is expected to make a final go ahead as early as next week, so the restart could take place within days.

A panel of experts will meet on Sunday for a final round of discussions and compile a report on the safety of the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Ohi nuclear power plant.  Mayor Shinobu Tokioka of Ohi Town, which hosts the power plant, will decide whether to support the resumption of reactor operations based on the report.

The central government plans to hold a meeting of nuclear power-related ministers to give the green light to the Ohi reactors if Fukui Prefecture agrees to it.

The government issued new safety guidelines in April to address residents’ worries. In response, Kansai Electric Power Co. submitted its safety plans for two reactors at the plant, saying the full upgrades will take up to three years.Some of the most crucial measures to secure cooling functions and prevent meltdowns as in Fukushima were installed, but more than one-third of the necessary upgrades on the list are still incomplete.

Communities near Ohi plant lack emergency measures

After last year’s accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the government decided to expand zones requiring improved preparedness for any accident. The zones now extend 30 kilometers from nuclear plants, rather than 10 kilometers.

This means that over 130 municipalities, or 3 times more than before, now must draw up their own anti-disaster plans. Most are doing so for the first time.

NHK talked to 3 prefectures and 11 municipalities within a 30-kilometer radius of the Fukui Prefecture plant.  The NHK survey has shown that more than half the local authorities around the Ohi nuclear power plant would be unprepared in case of a nuclear accident.

57 percent of respondents said they couldn’t take effective measures or smoothly evacuate residents if a crisis struck. 29 percent said they are partially prepared.

The authorities of Fukui Prefecture and Ohi, the town where the plant is based, did not answer the question.

No respondent said the government was doing a good job of persuading the public about the Ohi plant’s restart.
64 percent said efforts are insufficient.

Only 2 municipalities supported the plant’s early restart, while 64 percent refused to approve it, or said they can’t decide now. Fukui Prefecture didn’t answer, while Ohi said it can’t say at this stage.

Source: NHK

Source: Mainichi

Source: NHK

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