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Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2011
Hachiro hints at reactor restarts
METI minister says no request yet from Tepco for rate hike
New Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoshio Hachiro hinted that some of the nuclear reactors currently undergoing stress tests will be brought back into operation before April if their safety can be confirmed.
"We are expecting to get a result of the first-stage stress test for probably one reactor from each utility firm within one month . . . I don't think it will take until April" for the government to make a final decision of whether to resume operation, Hachiro said during an interview with media organizations Monday night.
After the results are submitted, he said the government will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency to review them.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said last week that waiting until April is too long, considering the need to prepare for next year's power demand and supply.
The stress tests have two stages and focus on four categories: earthquakes, tsunami, loss of power sources and loss of cooling systems for fuel rods.
The first phase targets reactors currently out of operation for regular inspections and maintenance, while the second stage is for those now in operation.
As for possible hikes in electricity prices by Tokyo Electric Power Co., which faces a massive compensation bill over the March 11 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Hachiro said he will strictly review any request by Tepco. When utilities seek to raise their prices, the request has to be approved by the METI minister.
It was recently reported that Tepco is looking to hike prices by more than 10 percent. Any such plan — which has been denied by Tepco — would be the first in 31 years. Hachiro also said he has not heard from Tepco about any application to raise prices.
Although he is a former employee of the nationwide agricultural cooperative, which opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement, Hachiro said "it will be difficult for Japan alone to go against the world's economic trend."
However, the government has not yet decided whether Japan will join the talks in the U.S.-led initiative and is still unclear when it will reach a decision.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is scheduled to take place in November in Hawaii, and other countries in the grouping are likely to keep their attention focused on whether Japan joins.
Another issue that Hachiro said he will work on is to reform his own ministry, whose trust was shaken by the nuclear crisis. It has been promoting nuclear power and its regulatory body, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, can't order Tepco to take measures to help prevent damage in the event of a tsunami.
NISA has also been criticized for asking utilities to send people to government-sponsored symposiums and put forward questions in favor of or neutral toward nuclear power.
"I told ministry executives how serious the Fukushima accident is. I haven't decided how METI should take responsibility," Hachiro said.
"I am sure there are things that need to be reformed. Since I have been just appointed, I will consider what I can do," he said.
'Peaceful' arms exports
New Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa says he will continue to pursue discussions on the future of the country's arms exports.
In the wake of calls for easing Japan's long-standing ban on arms exports, Ichikawa said at a news conference Monday that there is "room" for studying how to deal with the ban "without bending the principle of being a peaceful nation."