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Political, economic, pressure on Japan to restart nuclear reactors, despite community opposition

How Close Is Japan to Pushing the “On” Button on Reactors? WSJ, By Mitsuru Obe and Phred Dvorak, May 18, 2012,  Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Thursday the government’s “close” to a decision on whether to restart two nuclear reactors in western Japan — the first pair in line to switch back on after last year’s terrible accident in Fukushima.

So what’s the controversial decision going to be and where does it stand? JRT expects it’ll be a “yes,” but the pressures against restarting are so great that the order to bring
them back online could be delayed for months — possibly after peak electricity demand in the summer. Here’s our attempt to cut through the obscure, politically charged process…..

Before restarting, the government has said it will consult local
communities and then make a final Cabinet-level decision.

The problem is, the Japanese government failed to define what
communities it’s going to consult, and what level of support it’ll
need from them. At the very least, officials have said they’ll want
support from the town of Oi and the prefecture of Fukui, which host
the reactors.
This support appears to be largely in the bag. On Monday, the Oi town
assembly officially decided that the reactors needed to be restarted,
and the mayor has said he’ll make his decision by the end of the
month. The Fukui prefectural assembly convened its own expert panel,
which recently concluded that the Oi reactors were safe to restart.
Fukui’s governor is also backing the government’s evaluation, although
he’s raised concerns over Japan’s nuclear regulator, which has been in
a state of confusion since April. The regulator was supposed to have
been reformed into a new agency last month, but political infighting
has slowed the process.

But the governors of neighboring Kyoto and Shiga prefectures are
opposing the restart of Oi’s reactors, saying that the government
shouldn’t rush to bring them back online before it’s finished
investigating the cause of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, and
completed a long-term energy plan. The Japanese government said it’s
planning to set up a joint council comprising Fukui, Shiga and Kyoto
prefectures to monitor the Oi plant.

In Osaka, popular mayor Toru Hashimoto is demanding Kansai Electric
seek approval from all local authorities within 100 kilometers of its
nuclear plants before deciding to operate its reactors.

But none of those politicians are guaranteed a voice in the decision.
Pundits say Mr. Noda and the three other Cabinet members in charge of
the final decision are likely to press ahead with restarts anyway,
since Japan’s big utilities will lose a lot of money if they don’t.
“If nuclear plants are not restarted, they will turn become
liabilities, instead of assets,” Yoshito Sengoku, a senior member of
the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, said recently. “Even for
accounting reasons, it’s difficult to exit from nuclear power.”

Still, energy-watchers say the unexpected could still happen —
particularly since the political risks to a restart are so high. …


May 19, 2012 - Posted by | Japan, politics

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