Japan’s Perplexing Reactor Restarts; Where Are We Going And Why Are We In This Handbasket?

As the Japanese government has been rushing to restart nuclear reactors everyone is asking the same question. Why?

It really doesn’t make sense. In a country still reeling from a massive nuclear disaster why would the government be so intent on ignoring the obvious risks to charge ahead with restarts?

The central government excuses have been that there is going to be a dire electricity shortage in Kansai this summer and that reactors have been declared safe.  A number of sources have looked closely into the power capacity in the region and the demand during previous heat waves. They found that the region could supply enough power to meet those previous high demands without the addition of nuclear power. The government has yet to provide any hard evidence for their power shortage claim that will stand up to scrutiny. The other claim is that reactors are safe. This is based on “on paper” calculations done by power companies and reviewed by NISA. These assumptions have been highly criticized by nuclear experts and divided the NISA committee. The remaining claim of safety is based on some easy to meet non binding guidelines PM Noda’s cabinet came up with over 2 days. These guidelines allow all of the critical safety changes needed post Fukushima to be delayed for years if ever implemented. This means reactors at Oi would be allowed to operate with essentially no changes from how things operated before Fukushima.

Wakao Hanaoka of Greenpeace Japan said:
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 echoed many other experts who pointed that independent studies show there will be no power shortage. He also expressed concern for the rush for restarts based on Noda’s lax safety standards. These safety standards being tossed around were not developed by experts but by the Prime Minister’s cabinet.

Among the political wrangling over the issue, Edano was sent to Fukui to ask for the prefectures understanding about restarting the Oi reactors. Nishikawa’s comments included this interesting twist: “He emphasized that the community which hosts the nuclear power plant should be the one to decide.” It is unclear right now if this is going to be used as a weak excuse for ignoring the very vocal protests of the other prefectures in the area that are at risk by the operation of Oi. Shiga, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures have all stated that they are against the restart of Oi. Permission from the city near Oi could be used as an excuse by the central government to claim “local consent” while not actually doing so.

There is also this comment by Mainichi Shimbun; “After taking into account local opinions, Noda, Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura and nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono are due to make a final decision before July on whether to authorize the restart of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant.”
If this comment is a hint at how the central government intends to handle the issue, local consent will not be required.

The more this issue of reactor restarts evolves, why the government appears to be hell bent to restart Oi becomes the big question.
A  large majority of the public and local governments are extremely against this yet the people are being largely ignored.
Edano has been back and forth quite publicly. He is still making statements that express a desire to end nuclear power in Japan only to turn around and say something completely opposite the next time he speaks publicly. After a weekend of statements that leaned towards the central government restarting Oi, Edano said today that as of May 6 when the reactor in Hokkaido shuts down Japan may be without nuclear power. Then today Fukui governor Nishikawa made two statements throwing his previous statements into doubt.

The local people will not support the resumption until energy consumers outside the prefecture understand the contribution the local people are making to the nation’s energy policy.”
“The prefectural government intends to have its own panel of experts check the safety of the reactors. He added that the prefecture will make a final decision after hearing the opinions of prefectural assembly members and Ohi Town.”

Another recent revelation of the struggles going on inside Japan’s governments came out. Edano who was cabinet secretary at the time during the height of the Fukushima disaster told the cabinet that they should consider the need to evacuate Ibaraki and Tokyo.  At the same time other unnamed cabinet members were more worried about the impact on the stock market.

When Noda took office he stated he would continue PM Kan’s policy to end nuclear power. In January Noda made an abrupt turn around the same time business groups in Japan complained about the policy. In a January speech he changed to looking to lower nuclear on a long term basis rather than the rapid phase out and change Kan was promoting.

Also in January this special consultant to the government appeared in the press. Tadashi Maeda, someone with a history in corporate banking, began promoting this different nuclear policy. Maeda has had a direct and influential hand in decisions related to the Fukushima disaster, how to handle TEPCO, the decision to export nuclear power and government economic strategy. A Cabinet member said this of Maeda:  “He is capable of both lobbying and intelligence work. There are few like him.”

Asahi Shimbun said this in the January interview of Maeda:
Maeda will now likely be a key figure in deciding the future of Japan’s nuclear energy policy–and his stance may not mesh with that of the politician who brought the banker into the government’s decision-making process: former Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Maeda has had a direct role in how TEPCO has been handled and the ongoing liability & compensation funds. He also has a very skeptical view of renewable power as part of Japan’s near term energy future.
“As it has become difficult to resume operations at nuclear power plants, the dependence on nuclear power will likely decrease in the future,” Maeda said. “What would replace nuclear power? The first option would be natural gas, which is comparatively clean. While renewable energy sources may be an option in the long term, to say that renewable energy will expand hugely over the next three to five years is nothing but nonsense.”

In the interview Maeda went on to make a series of excuses why Japan should not end nuclear power including the existence of spent fuel as a risk, possible brain drain in the nuclear industry if reactors are shut down and some more vague reasoning that the accident at Fukushima shouldn’t cause changes to Japan’s nuclear policy. Maeda is clearly having an influential role in the central government yet the media focuses all their attention on Edano’s every move. Why Japan appears to be foolishly rushing ahead with a nuclear policy the public is extremely against may be explained by this January interview and the directions it leads.

The government had another bout of incompetence last week during the North Korea rocket launch. A system called J-Alert failed to work, leaving Japanese authorities dependent on the news media for information about the rocket launch. Confusion over why the J-Alert system didn’t work sounds vaguely like the confusion over SPEEDI data during the first days of the Fukushima disaster. The end result is systems didn’t work and the local government and the people were on their own to figure out what was going on. Apparently nothing has changed over the last year plus.

NISA also recently admitted the series of faults that run near the Oi nuclear plant could cause control rods to not be inserted during a quake. The ground motion could potentially be so severe it could prevent the proper insertion of control rods. Why this issue is being ignored in the stress tests and central government push to restart the Oi reactors is a big question..

Japan Times mentions on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, how similar the Japanese government and the hubris of those involved with the Titanic is. Neither the Titanic or Fukushima were “unsinkable”.  Meanwhile NISA is pushing for a 10 year operating extension on the Mihama nuclear reactor that is already 40 years old. Other reactors that operated past the 40 year mark include unit 1 at Fukushima Daiichi.

All of this political wrestling has not gone unopposed by the public. A crowd blocked the front doors of the Fukui government building as Edano met with the governor.

A hunger strike has been going on in front of Kansai Electric in Osaka.

How this will play out remains to be seen. Statements indicating the restart will be forced through come out almost as fast as statements indicating they won’t. Gaining a better understanding of who and why the central government is pushing the restarts may provide a better look at what problems are truly plaguing Japan as the country tries to recover from the 3-11 disaster.

This article would not be possible without the extensive efforts of the SimplyInfo research team
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