Criticism hits Japan's plan to restart nuclear reactors

AFP, Sunday 15 Apr 2012

Japan's media and environmental groups harshly slam PM Yoshihiko Noda's plan to restart the two nuclear reactors crippled from last year's tsunami, voicing public concerns about safety and preparedness

file photo shows Kansai Electric Power Co.'s No. 3, rear, and No. 4 units of the Ohi nuclear power station in Ohi, Fukui prefecture, western Japan, November 2011. (Photo:AP)

Japan's plan to restart two offline nuclear reactors has come under fire from media and environmental groups amid doubts over the safety of atomic power after the Fukushima accident.

"It is hard to understand why the government is in such a haste to restart the reactors," the major daily Mainichi Shimbun said in an editorial Sunday, adding that more thorough checks were needed to ensure safety.

The government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced on Friday that it was safe and necessary to restart the reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in western Japan, which could help prevent power shortages in the summer months.

Only one of Japan's 54 reactors -- in northernmost Hokkaido -- is in operation at present, but it is scheduled to be shut down for maintenance work in May.

Restarting the two Oi reactors will mean the country is not entirely without nuclear power, which can be generated more cheaply than at fuel-burning power plants.

"Independent studies show that there will be no power shortages," said Wakao Hanaoka, the Japan campaign manager for the environment watchdog Greenpeace.

The activist said Premier Noda and the Oi plant's operator Kansai Electric Power Co. are "recklessly rushing to bring the reactors back online now, saying they meet its lax safety requirements".

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March last year caused reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. None of reactors shut for regular checks before the disaster have resumed operation amid safety concerns.

"The nuclear industry and the government were totally unprepared for the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi and now they are trying to pretend they can call Oi safe without improving safety or emergency measures," Hanaoka said.

The government set criteria nine days ago for restarting nuclear reactors included measures to prevent a nuclear accident even if reactors are hit by natural disasters as severe as those that ravaged the Fukushima plant.

The government still needs to gain approval from regional authorities around the Oi plant for the reactors to be restarted amid persistent public distrust over the safety of nuclear power.

Yukio Edano, the minister of industry, on Saturday called on the governor of Fukui, where the Oi plant is located. The governor, Issei Nishikawa, did not give an immediate response to his request for approval of the plan.

"It is uncertain if the plan will ever gain an understanding of communities which have raised objections to the resumption of the reactors," the Asahi Shimbun reported Sunday.

The influential daily criticised the Noda administration Sunday for being "inconsistent" over its nuclear power policy.

Before Noda took office last September, he promised to follow his predecessor Naoto Kan in ridding Japan of nuclear power, Asahi said.

But he backtracked last January when he said in a policy speech that the resources-poor country would reduce its dependence on nuclear power "as much as possible on a medium- and long-term basis."

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