JAPAN | Restart N-plants safely; shut down Kan govt swiftly

Posted on July 9, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | 9 July 2011

The chaotic situation surrounding the issue of restarting nuclear reactors that were suspended for regular inspections has moved to a deeper dimension under the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

It has now become more likely that every single nuclear reactor in Japan will be suspended within a year, causing a severe power shortage. This is an alarming situation for the nation.

Developments in Genkaicho, Saga Prefecture, show the direction events are taking. Genkaicho Mayor Hideo Kishimoto on Thursday officially withdrew his previously declared approval for Kyushu Electric Power Co. to restart two reactors at its Genkai nuclear power plant.

He nullified his former decision because Kan has abruptly stated the safety of nuclear reactors cannot be confirmed until so-called stress tests are performed on the reactors and because the prime minister contradicted a “safety declaration” that had earlier been announced by Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda.

The mayor is openly angry about the government’s inconsistent responses to the issue, saying, “I can’t trust the central government.”

Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa has asked the central government to show a united position on the safety of nuclear reactors. Inevitably, the confidence of local governments in the central government is now completely battered.

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Kaieda stabbed in the back

The responsibility for inviting all the confusion unmistakably rests with Kan himself. In principle, he is in a position to bring the situation under control. However, can we expect him to do it?

Kan previously had repeated he would let suspended reactors be restarted after regular inspections confirmed their safety. Based on this stance, Kaieda had been asking the local governments concerned to allow the restart of the reactors at the Genkai plant.

However, Kan suddenly changed his stance, saying new safety standards were necessary.

For Kaieda, it was like he had been stabbed in the back by his friend. He told a Diet session Thursday that he “would take [his] share of responsibility on the issue sooner or later,” suggesting the possibility of resignation. He must now feel he cannot go along with the self-righteous prime minister any longer.

We understand the necessity of stress tests to ensure the safety of nuclear reactors. However, Kan must realize that a test on a reactor requires several months at least. It means the restart of the Genkai plant’s reactors will not begin in August, when the demand for electricity will sharply rise. In addition, the restart of reactors at other nuclear power stations will face difficulties.

Currently there are 17 reactors commercially operating. Five of them will be suspended one after another in July or August for regular inspections. The supply capacity of the five reactors combined is 5 million kilowatts, almost equivalent to that of Hokuriku Electric Power Co. In other words, the capacity equivalent of an entire power company will be lost.

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An ever-worsening situation

For Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co., whose large-lot customers are currently obliged to save electricity under a government ordinance, balancing supply and demand will be like a high-wire act. It is possible the two companies will have to implement rolling blackouts.

If the prime minister does not recognize this critical situation, he is unbelievably irresponsible. He has pinned his hopes on a special measures bill designed to promote renewable energy sources. But his top priority should be to settle the immediate problem at hand.

“I don’t flatter myself that I’m the best prime minister ever, but I mustn’t shirk my responsibility,” Kan said during a Diet session about reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake and bringing the nuclear crisis under control.

We wonder how a person who raises big issues without taking any positive action on his own can make such a statement.

Under this prime minister, the Japanese economy only keeps heading deeper and deeper into a slump. Everyone in the political world should find a way to bring an end to the Kan administration as soon as possible.

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Posted in: JAPAN