The Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 16, 2012)
Priority should be given to host governments' consent
The government is at a crucial juncture regarding reactivation of the suspended Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet must unite to convince the local governments hosting the plant and local residents, and quickly win their understanding.
On Saturday, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano held talks with Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, Oi Mayor Shinobu Tokioka and other officials at the Fukui prefectural government office, asking for local understanding of the restart of the suspended reactors.
Edano told them the central government has confirmed the safety of the reactors, in accordance with the new safety criteria sought by the Fukui prefectural government, and concluded it is necessary to restart the reactors.
Nishikawa refrained from answering during the talks, saying he wants to "check carefully" the appropriateness of restarting the reactors.
Send consistent message
Nishikawa praised Edano's remark that the government would use nuclear energy as an important power source. He also asked the government to send unwavering messages that nuclear power generation is essential.
If it is going to ask local governments hosting nuclear power plants to cooperate, the Noda administration must make it clear it has broken from the idea of making the country's energy policy free from its dependence on nuclear power, a position advocated by former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other government leaders although there were no prospects for its realization.
On the other hand, Nishikawa said with a strong sense of dissatisfaction that the efforts and contributions made by local governments and communities hosting nuclear plants have not necessarily been understood by the areas that consume the electricity.
During a press conference following his talks with Edano, the governor said the prefectural government will make the ultimate decision on whether the reactors should be restarted.
He likely intended to refute criticism that the government's judgment on the restart was too hasty, an opinion voiced by governors of the neighboring prefectures of Shiga and Kyoto and by Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka, a major consumer of the power generated from the KEPCO plant.
It was also made apparently in opposition to Edano's earlier remark that the government needs to win the understanding not merely of the local governments hosting the plant but also of the nation, as a major accident at the plant would affect the entire country.
Needless to say, it is important to win understanding for the restart from neighboring governments. But the central government has to give the most weight to the local governments hosting the plant.
Power shortage looms
If the nuclear reactors suspended for regular inspections are not restarted, all 54 of the nation's reactors will become idle in early May. In particular, the area in which the Oi plant is located and that is covered by the supply of electricity generated by KEPCO is expected to suffer a power shortage of up to about 20 percent this summer.
During a press conference Friday, Edano said power outages and shortages would significantly affect such socially disadvantaged people as the sick and the elderly.
He also said it was by no means permissible to bring about a power crisis by siding with optimists who say power supply and demand could be managed somehow through power-saving efforts or other measures. He is quite right.
If we replace nuclear power generation with thermal power, fuel costs for this fiscal year will increase by as much as 3.1 trillion yen for the whole nation.
Therefore Edano is not going too far to say that within the near future the service areas covered by KEPCO may be asked to accept a hike in their utility charges.
Sufficient consideration should be given to the economic aspect of the power supply so the nation's economy is not adversely affected by such developments as the hollowing-out of industry.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 15, 2012)