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Thursday, May 31, 2012
Kansai governors: Oi reactors restart is state's call
TOTTORI — The head of the Union of Kansai Governments said Wednesday that it will accept any decision the government makes on restarting reactors 3 and 4 at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, effectively approving a resumption of operations.
"We will accept the government's decision," Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido, who heads the body, told reporters after a union meeting in Tottori Prefecture.
The reactivation of the two reactors at the plant would make them the first shut down for routine maintenance to resume operations since the Fukushima nuclear crisis started in March 2011.
The union was responding to a meeting earlier in the day involving Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, nuclear accident minister Goshi Hosono, industry minister Yukio Edano and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura in Tokyo, where the four discussed restarting reactors 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power station.
At the meeting, Hosono said the government may station officials, including a senior vice industry minister, at the Oi complex to demonstrate its safety against potential antinuclear demonstrations.
The central government also plans to set up a special surveillance system with Kepco to ensure reactors 3 and 4 are safely put back online.
Hosono added that the central government would provide comprehensive and timely information to the governments of neighboring prefectures, including Kyoto and Shiga.
Noda's administration, which is desperately seeking to ward off power shortages this summer, will propose the safety measures to the Fukui Prefectural Government. If it wins consent from local authorities, the central government could make a final decision to restart the two Oi reactors on the Sea of Japan coast in June.
Following the meeting, the Union of Kansai Governments issued a statement saying, "On the assumption that the government's safety judgment is provisional, we call on it to make a definitive judgment."
However, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who took part in the union's meeting via a live video feed, expressed his opposition to restarting the reactors at the present time.
"Why is (the central government) going to reactivate (the reactors) before the launch of the new regulatory agency?" he asked.
Hosono said the plan to have a senior vice minister or other senior political officials stationed in Fukui is only a temporary step before the launch of the new agency. Diet deliberations on bills to create the new nuclear regulatory agency only started Tuesday, after the move had been delayed by opposition parties. The government initially wanted to establish the new body by April 1.
"In the event of an emergency, we will link the Oi nuclear power plant, Kansai Electric, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and the prime minister's office via a videoconferencing system," Hosono said. "By doing so, we will be able to act promptly, and fundamentally improve our system."
All of Japan's 50 usable commercial reactors are currently offline amid heightened concerns over nuclear power in light of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
As Japan's electricity supply is expected to be tight this summer, the government is striving to reactivate the Oi reactors but has so far struggled to convince large sections of the public over its safety claims.
Nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono has said he regrets that the government did not directly admit the possibility of meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant shortly after the crisis started.
In talks Tuesday in Tokyo with Michael Sandel, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University, Hosono said he believes the government's communication with the public when the crisis started in March 2011 was "problematic" and had it been more open about the chances of meltdowns, people would have had been more trusting of the government's information.
Three of the plants six reactors suffered meltdowns, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and making it the world's worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The government did not officially confirm the meltdowns until last June.
Hosono said Japanese people in general are "very calm" and can discuss hard truths. "We have to change our way of disseminating information to and communicating with the people," he said.
Sandel, known in Japan for his Harvard lectures broadcast here and a best-selling book on justice, said he expects the crisis-hit nation will have "an animating vision of the future and of renewal" that not only involves the physical rebuilding but "even a reinvention of what a democratic life may look like for Japan."
He said that while the country's leaders should solve problems and ensure safety in the aftermath of last year's natural disasters and the nuclear crisis, they should also make the postdisaster experience "a moment of civic aspiration" and "create something better and higher and inspiring for young people."
Sandel told Hosono, who pursued his political career after working as a volunteer in Kobe after the port city was devastated by the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, that as a political leader he can "help the society reimagine its possibilities, and especially its yet unrealized democratic possibilities."
Hosono said the nation's nuclear industry has focused on power generation, but he believes it should work harder to ensure safety and minimize its environmental impact, referring to the need to further develop technologies that aid in the decommissioning of reactors, extraction of spent nuclear fuel and decontamination of areas hit by radioactive fallout.