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Friday, Dec. 21, 2012

Host towns hope new LDP regime will see reactors restarted

Kyodo

The Liberal Democratic Party's resounding election victory has raised hopes among host communities about restarting nuclear plants idled by the Fukushima crisis and the construction of new reactors, as the LDP is considered less inclined to seek to totally scrap atomic energy.

But with other communities nearby not sharing any immediate economic benefits from the nuclear power industry, and in many cases fearing the consequences of another catastrophic meltdown scenario, it remains to be seen if any reactors will be restarted anytime soon.

Safety screening that has been apparently tightened since the Nuclear Regulation Authority was established earlier this year may also create additional hurdles to clear before rebooting reactors.

Hideo Kishimoto, mayor of the town of Genkai in Saga Prefecture, has expressed strong hopes for an early restart of the Genkai nuclear plant, saying, "I believe the Liberal Democratic Party will seriously consider the resumption of operations."

Genkai is the largest nuclear power complex in Kyushu. All four reactors are currently idled, and if they remain so over an extended period, it will take a serious toll on the local economy. The plant generates jobs through related construction work and other services to keep it running.

The LDP has said it plans to make a comprehensive decision on restarts for all reactors in the country within three years, in sharp contrast to the Democratic Party of Japan, which pledged to phase out atomic energy by the 2030s. The DPJ suffered a crushing defeat in Sunday's election, allowing the LDP, which introduced nuclear power to Japan and set the industry on a high-growth trajectory, to regain power.

"I am confident (the LDP) will take a flexible stance. I would think resumption would come around December next year," Genkai Mayor Kishimoto said.

A few other host communities have made strong calls for a review of the DPJ's nuclear phaseout plan.

"We would like to see realistic discussions that will not be swayed by voices just highlighting the danger of nuclear power," said Kazuharu Kawase, mayor of Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture.

The city is host to Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tsuruga nuclear complex, which is now subject to critical scrutiny by experts because of the heightened possibility that an active fault runs beneath its reactor 2. With reactor 1, its only other unit, becoming obsolete, the facility's reactivation appears increasingly difficult.

The DPJ government said it would not allow construction of two more atomic reactors at Tsuruga, but the LDP has hinted at readiness to allow for new units.

Mayor Kawase voiced hope for a shift in policy, saying, "We need to add facilities at an early date."

The LDP's accommodative policy toward nuclear power is raising alarms in many communities around the host areas, among them Hakodate in Hokkaido.

The city is located across the Tsugaru Strait from Oma, Aomori Prefecture, the site of the Oma plant operated by Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power). Construction of the complex began in May 2008 but was suspended after the Fukushima No. 1 plant meltdowns in March 2011.

The DPJ administration did not stand in the way of the company's plan to resume the project in October as an exception to the ban on new reactors, noting the government had given permission before the Fukushima crisis.

Mayor Toshiki Kudo of Hakodate, which is threatening to sue to block construction of the plant, said, "We will request an indefinite freeze on the plan."

These peripheral communities hardly benefit from government subsidies awarded to host towns and villages, not to mention the jobs and tax revenues a nuclear plant generates. But given their proximity, they are obliged to formulate disaster mitigation plans in case of a crisis.

LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said earlier on a TV program that the restart of reactors hinges on "a judgment of safety by the NRA and the acceptance of local people."

Confusion may arise over what he means by "local."

But Ishikawa Prefecture Gov. Masanori Tanimoto, for one, is critical of the NRA, noting its executives were picked without Diet authorization: "They need to tackle their work keeping in mind their position as being on probation."

The prefecture hosts Hokuriku Electric Power Co.'s only nuclear plant, in Shika, which is also suspected of sitting on an active fault. The NRA plans to conduct an on-site probe of the facility.

With many communities hurrying to work out disaster response plans, an official in charge of nuclear power issues at one municipality said, "I really hope (the central government) will not just push around (concerned) local governments" now that the LDP is in office.



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