Sunday, June 19, 2011

19/06 Kaieda: We need N-plants / Calls on local residents to OK restart of suspended reactors

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Industry minister Banri Kaieda on Saturday urged local entities hosting nuclear power plants to agree to the restart of reactors that have been suspended longer than planned in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is seeking to resume operations at 18 reactors that are still suspended after regular safety inspections. Another 17 remain suspended due to damage caused by the March 11 disaster.

The nation has 54 reactors overall.

"If nuclear plants can't resume operations even after the implementation of additional safety measures, our country's industries will stagnate, causing uncertainty in people's lives," Kaieda said at a press conference.

"Therefore we politely ask local residents [of areas with nuclear power plants] to cooperate [with restarting the reactors]," he said.

Kaieda expressed his desire to visit affected local governments as early as this week, to explain in person the need to restart the reactors soon.

The press conference followed an announcement earlier Saturday by the agency that all 11 electric power companies operating nuclear reactors have taken "appropriate" precautionary measures against severe accidents.

However, it appears there will still be twists and turns before the actual resumption of operations at some nuclear power plants, as local governments are poised to seek additional safety measures in the wake of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The agency issued on June 7 an instruction to the electric power companies to devise measures to deal with serious nuclear accidents, including hydrogen explosions.

The electric power firms submitted by Tuesday the safety measures they had newly introduced after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

The agency carried out on-site inspections of the reactors on Wednesday and Thursday to check how the new safety measures were implemented.

Five key subjects of investigation were:

-- Ensuring central control rooms remain operational even when power is lost.

-- Securing means of communication for times of emergency.

-- Provision of equipment, including radiation protection suits, to be used in the event of a serious accident.

-- Countermeasures against hydrogen explosions.

-- Arrangements to use heavy machinery to remove debris in case of a serious accident.

The agency, a body of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, said its findings showed these safety measures had been fully implemented at the reactors of all the electric power companies.

On March 30, the agency instructed the power utilities to implement immediate countermeasures against earthquakes and tsunami. It later confirmed the power companies had acted in line with the instruction.

Judging from the findings of the two inspections, the agency concluded there was no problem with restarting the suspended reactors, agency officials said.

The 35 do not include two reactors at Hamaoka nuclear plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, which operator Chubu Electric Power Co. decided to decommission after Prime Minister Naoto Kan requested that all reactors at the plant be shut down due to concern a massive earthquake may hit the area.

The agreement of local entities is not legally required to restart suspended reactors. However, utilities pledged in nuclear safety pacts to respect as much as possible the views of local residents, making it very difficult in practice to restart suspended reactors without their agreement.

Kaieda stressed at the press conference Saturday, "Although we have no intention of saying unconditionally that nuclear rectors are absolutely safe, the government is determined to continue checking their safety carefully with a firm sense of responsibility."


Local govts mostly skeptical

Heads of local governments hosting nuclear power plants had various views on Kaieda's statements over restarting idled nuclear plants.

Gov. Issei Nishikawa of Fukui Prefecture, home to 13 nuclear reactors, said: "[Industry ministry officials] should come here soon to explain about the safety measures. [Apart from these plans] there should be stricter regular checkups to ensure safety over the short term."

Regarding the Genkai nuclear plant, Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa said: "Until recently, the government wasn't clear over whether it wanted us to approve the restart of the reactors. But now that the industry minister has made it clear what he wants, I'll carefully examine his request."

Genkaicho Mayor Hideo Kishimoto said, "A safety guarantee from the industry minister is one part of what we need to feel at ease."

(Jun. 19, 2011)

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