The government officially decided Saturday to reactivate the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, in a bid to prevent power shortages in the Kansai region this summer. Earlier in the day, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa met with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Tokyo to convey his approval for resuming operations at the power station.
“As we have gained the prefectural government’s consent, we have decided to restart the Oi plant’s reactors — this is the government’s final decision” on the matter, Noda said later at a meeting of key ministers. At a news conference afterward, Yukio Edano, the minister of economy, trade and industry, said that “we understand that we have not necessarily gained acceptance from every single member of the public, but we think we have garnered a certain level of understanding” on the issue.
“The government’s policy of reducing Japan’s nuclear power dependency in the medium to long term has not changed at all,” he added. Edano said he asked plant operator Kansai Electric Power Co. to prepare to fire up the Oi reactors, which are expected to require several weeks to reach full capacity.
It would be the first reactivation since all of the nation’s reactors were idled to undergo stress tests because of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. But antinuclear activists around Japan slammed the government’s decision. Opponents are still arguing it is too early to restart the reactors because a new nuclear regulator hasn’t been established yet and the causes of the Fukushima disaster remain under investigation.
During his meeting with Noda, Nishikawa requested that the central government take several steps, including greater safety measures at the reactors, plans to deal with spent fuel, programs to train more nuclear engineers, and more extensive research on the risks of earthquakes and tsunami along the Sea of Japan coast, where the Oi plant is situated.
He also urged the government to make further efforts to explain to the public the crucial role atomic energy plays in the nation’s energy supply, as well as the importance of nuclear plants to the economies of host municipalities and their residents’ livelihoods. “Deepening people’s understanding of the importance of nuclear power is crucial, and I would like the government to make further efforts to this end,” Nishikawa said at the meeting.
The governor also warned that communities hosting nuclear plants and cities that consume the electricity they generate should avoid engaging in a blame game over reactor restarts. During the discussions on the Oi facility, prefectural and municipal leaders in Kansai, especially Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, voiced stiff opposition to bringing them back online, but ultimately granted their consent to reactivating them.
Without nuclear power, the region is likely to face a 15 percent electricity shortfall this summer. This will be offset by firing up the Oi reactors. The government also plans to set up a special monitoring team at an off-site center near the Oi plant until a new regulatory organization is established.
The center, which will be based about 20 km from the power station, will serve as an emergency headquarters in the event of a major nuclear accident.
The team is to be headed by Seishu Makino, a senior vice minister at METI, and will consist of senior officials from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Fukui prefectural officials, Kansai Electric employees, including its vice president, reactor manufacturers and academic experts.