JAPAN | Local leaders disagree on restart of nuclear reactors

Posted on July 6, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 6 July 2011

Local political leaders are split over whether suspended reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture should be restarted.

Hideo Kishimoto, mayor of Genkai town, which hosts the plant, told Kyushu Electric on July 4 that he agreed with the restart of the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, which have been shut down for regular inspections.

“I have ascertained that the central government’s emergency safety measures and other means are well in place. A certain level of understanding has been gained from the town residents concerning the resumption, so I would like to approve it on behalf of the town,” Kishimoto told the company.

But with the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant still unresolved, the heads of other local governments near the Genkai plant said Kishimoto’s statement was premature.

Yoshikazu Tsukabe, the mayor of Imari in Saga Prefecture, which is only 12 kilometers from the Genkai plant, said on July 4 that it was too early to resume operations.

“Damage from the Fukushima accident spread outside the 10-kilometer emergency planning zone,” he said.

Toshiyuki Sakai, mayor of Karatsu in Saga Prefecture, which is next to Genkai town, told reporters July 4: “I remain prudent (about the resumption) because the citizens’ concerns have not been allayed.”

Mineo Matsumoto, mayor of Itoshima in Fukuoka Prefecture, said: “I am deeply concerned, because (part of) the city lies within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant and, worse, in the direction of the prevailing wind.”

Kyushu Electric President Toshio Manabe has been steering clear of consulting all local governments in the area, arguing that Genkai town and Saga Prefecture “represent” those governments.

But Norio Tomonaga, mayor of nearby Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture, flatly rejected that logic. “We are not acting in unison with Genkai town. (Genkai town and Saga Prefecture) do not represent us,” he said.

Hodo Nakamura, governor of Nagasaki Prefecture, which neighbors Saga Prefecture, said the central government should organize meetings with local residents to explain the situation at the plants.

The situation in Saga Prefecture is mirrored across Japan, with many municipal heads in areas hosting power stations tending to be supportive of nuclear plants because of their importance to local employment and tax revenues.

Kishimoto was the first head of a local authority hosting a plant to officially approve a resumption of operations, but others were supportive of his decision.

Hiroomi Makino, mayor of Tomari village in Hokkaido Prefecture, which contains Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear plant, said on July 4, “I think that, as a local municipal head, (the Genkai mayor) came to conclude that safety was assured.”

The Tomari plant’s No. 1 and No. 3 reactors have also been shut down for regular inspections.

“I am waiting for an explanation by the minister of economy, trade and industry and a decision by the governor of Hokkaido. Power supply is very tight for the summer, and this is having a great impact on the economy,” Makino said.

Takashi Kusano, mayor of Naraha in Fukushima Prefecture, which hosts the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant, said: “Unlike the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the Genkai plant was shut down for checkups. The plant is well prepared for a tsunami. It is natural for him, as the mayor of a host town, to have a desire to have the nuclear plant operating again.”

At TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture, where four reactors are in operation, the No. 1 and No. 7 reactors are scheduled to be shut down for regular inspections in August.

Hiroo Shinada, mayor of Kariwa village, said, “There is no need to keep it out of service if safety is proven scientifically.”

He said he would not be influenced by Genkai town’s decision. Nuclear plant subsidies and related items account for about 40 percent of all revenues of the village.

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