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Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Unwise attempt to restart reactors
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, trade and industry minister Yukio Edano and two other Cabinet ministers on April 13 concluded that the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electronic Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture are safe enough to restart even though adequate safety standards and measures are lacking. A final decision has yet to be made.
Apparently the ministers want the reactors back online by May 5 when the No. 3 reactor at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.'s Tomari nuclear power plant, Japan's only operating reactor, is taken offline for a regular inspection. We believe the ministers are trying to prevent a situation that convincingly demonstrates that Japan can manage without nuclear power.
The Cabinet ministers made their judgement based on the results of a stress test and provisional safety standards despite the fact that Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Haruki Madarame has publicly stated said that stress tests cannot be used to gauge the safety of nuclear power plants. The results of a stress test — a computer simulation — can vary depending on the data fed into computers and the computer programs used.
The provisional safety standards were worked out in just three days by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of the trade and industry ministry, which promotes nuclear power generation.
The public will not trust such hastily devised safety standards. It is reported that NISA spent just five hours checking Kepco's 89-page roadmap for taking safety measures. It take three years for Kepco to install a seismically isolated emergency command center and filters to remove radioactive substances in the case such substances are vented from reactor cores into the atmosphere during an emergency. In addition, neither Kepco nor NISA has given detailed explanations based on concrete scenarios as to how Kepco can ensure reactors can be shut down safely when all power sources at any of its nuclear power plants are lost.
The four ministers cited Kepco's report that its power supply will be about 20 percent short of peak demand during the coming summer. But this report does not take into consideration energy conservation efforts and the availability of other sources of power. In addition, it has not been vetted by an independent third party.
The hastiness with which the government is trying to restart the Oi reactors shows that it is not taking the Fukushima nuclear disaster seriously. It is highly regrettable that Mr. Noda lacks the will and determination to wean Japan off nuclear power.