Editorial: Restart of the nuclear reactors and the prime minister

What happened to the policy to end the reliance on nuclear power?

Are the preparations to ensure that another nuclear power plant disaster will not occur adequate? Will there really be a power shortage? Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is pressing forward with the restart of nuclear reactors without adequately addressing these doubts and concerns of the people.

Last week the prime minister indicated his intention to restart the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which is operated by the Kansai Electric Power Company. In a speech he delivered in Tokyo on June 10, the prime minister said energy cannot be supplied merely by relying on “seishinron” (the ability to control physical events through mental strength) and that if blackouts were to occur there would be terrible consequences.

Given that the safety measures at the Oi nuclear power plant can hardly be said to be thorough, is the notion of not restarting the reactors and working together to save electricity and avoid power shortages merely “seishinron”?

The prime minister stressed that he made his decision to restart the Oi reactors after making absolutely sure of their safety. But the safety measures that have been presented will not dispel criticism for “speed over quality.”

Some facilities, including the seismically isolated office building that will serve as the operations center in the event of an accident, will not be completed until 2015. And the government’s new regulatory framework for overseeing the safety of nuclear power plants is still being deliberated in the Diet.

The safety standards formulated by the government in preparation for restarting the reactors were themselves drawn up hastily in response to a request by Fukui Prefecture. Under these conditions, the people’s concern cannot be allayed.

At a press conference last week, the prime minister merely emphasized the importance of nuclear power while expressing his gratitude to Fukui Prefecture and the town of Oi. This remarks seemed to be addressed to the “nuclear power village,” the closed circle of the nuclear industry, rather than to the people of Japan or those in Fukushima who were forced to evacuate as a result of the accident at the nuclear power plant.

Even if you concede that restarting the reactors is necessary, if the government would outline a vision for ending the nation’s reliance on nuclear energy over the long term, more people would be willing to accept the restart.

But at the press conference, the prime minister merely said that “the government will present alternatives and make a decision in August amid national debate on the issue,” with a new basic energy plan in mind.

The Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, an advisory panel of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, has discussed the proportion of the nation’s power resources to be represented by nuclear power in 2030, and a subcommittee came up with four options: zero, 15 percent, 20-25 percent or “no figure.” But we are concerned because the government’s position is still unclear.

By rights, whether or not to restart the reactors is an issue that should be decided based on the basic energy plan.

The press conference was held because the prime minister was repeatedly asked by Issei Nishikawa, governor of Fukui Prefecture, to declare that “nuclear power is necessary.”

This shows the prime minister’s impatience to gain the understanding of the local community by any means. The idea is for Gov. Nishikawa to agree to the restart and then for Mr. Noda and the three cabinet members concerned to make a formal decision to restart the reactors.

When he originally assumed office last year, the prime minister expressed the expectation that Japan would gradually end its reliance on nuclear power stating, “Basically, the way it will go is that reactors will be decommissioned once they reach the end of their life spans, and no new ones can be built.” It is clear he has largely retreated from that position.

Was what he said just another example of “seishinron” that does not reflect reality? Ending Japan’s reliance on nuclear power is a concept that arose from the lessons of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant and the resolve to ensure that such an accident never occurs again. More than 100 Democratic Party members of the two houses of the Diet have expressed their opposition to restarting the reactors. This must be taken seriously.

(Originally published on June 12, 2012)