Japan’s Noda urges nation to go nuclear

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister's official residence in Tokyo Friday, June 8, 2012. Noda said in the news conference broadcast live to the nation Japan must restart two nuclear reactors to protect the economy and people's livelihoods in a news conference. <Photo=AP/NEWSis>

TOKYO, June 9 (Xinhua) — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has made a nationwide appeal to the people of Japan to understand that two idled nuclear reactors in western Japan must be restarted to protect people’s livelihoods and the economy in general.

The No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, western Japan, have remained shuttered along with all of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors, following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in March last year battering a nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture and causing one of the world’s worst- ever nuclear disasters.

But the Japanese leader stressed to the public in a nationally- broadcast press conference on Friday, that the two reactors at the Oi plant must be restarted to “protect the people’s livelihoods” and to ensure the continuation of Japan as a functional society.

SUMMER STRAIN

Noda’s appeal to the public came at the request of Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa, who is facing increasing pressure from local authorities and members of the public in his constituency, who fear that the government’s ineptitude exacerbated last year’s crisis and remain unconvinced that central and local governments have fully addressed a myriad of ongoing safety concerns and problems.

While conceding that public opinion on the matter remains divided, the Japanese leader said the imminent power shortage facing the nation as power consumption is set to spike this summer, must be addressed as a matter of “national priority.”

He highlighted the fact that with all of the country’s power plants remaining offline — largely due to safety concerns sparked by the monumental disaster in Fukushima — experts believe that western areas of Japan will soon face between a 15 and 18 percent power deficit — a level he described as “severe.”

The Japanese leader went on to say that individual households, business and the economy in general would be forced to continue to pay more for its power produced by expensive, imported fossil fuels, at a time when the strength of the Japanese currency is causing these costs to balloon further.

In fact, Kansai Electric Power Co., which provides power to the Kansai region that includes Osaka Prefecture, has been urging its business and individual consumers  to slash consumption by at least 15 percent compared to levels seen two years ago, with the move being supported by the central government.

SAFETY CONCERNS

Energy conservation will only ever be a very short term solution however and Noda told the nation that not starting the reactors would in essence be “putting people’s safety and livelihood at stake.”

But experts have been quick to point out that some of the concerns being yelled by protesters outside the Prime Minister’s Office as Noda tries desperately to convince a dubious public that Japan returning to nuclear power having suffered a horrendous accident just over a year ago is in the nation’s best interest, ring true.

Those opposing the move have been quick to point out that while Kansai Electric Power Co.’s new post-inspection safety plans for the two reactors in question do address some fundamental measures to ensure that its primary and defensive cooling functions would remain operable, even if the plant was hit by an earthquake- triggered tsunami the size and ferocity of that which knocked out the cooling functions at the Fukushima plant, causing its reactors to meltdown, more than 30 percent of the plant’s necessary upgrades have yet to be completed.

“Fully upgrading the nuclear plants that have been taken offline to new domestic and international standards will take time. So it’s no wonder people are nervous about these reactors being fired up again so soon after such a huge nuclear disaster,” said Sean Toczko, an expert from Japan’s Marine Science & Technology Institute.

“It could take until 2015 or longer until technologies to lessen radiation leaks in the event of an accident are in place, next-generation anti-tsunami defenses are operational and on-site anti-radiation crisis centers are workable. From this point of view, the Oi plant is far from ready to handle a Fukushima-type crisis,” he said.

BACKLASH

Within Noda’s own ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), opinion is also divided on the restarting of the reactors, with some politicians echoing the majority of the public’s view that energy conservation should be mandated in the short-term and government efforts to move towards renewable energy sources be shifted into top gear.

“Most of the public are of the opinion that we should overcome this summer’s energy needs through conservation and flexibility,” said a recent local editorial on the matter.

The editorial went on to highlight the fact that many of the politicians campaigning against Noda’s proposal to restart the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant, were also members of a powerful intraparty group led by political heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa, who has been a vocal critic of a number of Noda’s policies – – none more so than his signature sales tax hike bill, which Noda hopes will see the doubling of Japan’s sales tax to 10 percent by 2015.

Whether or not Noda and his nuclear disaster management minister Goshi Hosono have done enough to convince the public that the Oi plant is safe enough to bring back online remains to be seen, but this may be something of a moot point.

According to chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura, the decision to fire up the plant is the prime minister’s alone, and talks with local officials were solely to try and garner local support from people living in the plant’s vicinity and the wider population who are hoping for a nuclear-free Japan.

Noda himself and four other Cabinet ministers are likely to agree and announce the restart of the reactors next week, with both the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant likely to be online in a matter of days following Noda’s decision.

According to sources close to the matter, Nishikawa is also in support of the reactors being restarted and following his prefectural government’s nuclear safety committee giving the all clear, and having listened to the opinions of Oi Mayor Shinobu Tokioka, Nishikawa will almost certainly sign off on the reactors’ restarting.

As local consent is not a legal requirement for restarting the idled reactors here and with much of Japan facing similar power shortages this summer, the reactors at the Oi facility being brought back online could serve as a litmus test to gauge the public’s reaction to potential restarts of reactors in other parts of the nation, sources close to the matter have suggested. <Xinhua/Jon Day >

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