Whether or not to restart idled nukes is a major news story. Here’s what’s going on…

  • Seishu Makino, senior vice minister of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, visited Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada on Monday. He is trying to gain her support for restarting Oi units #3 & 4. However, the governor is firm in her distrust of the Tokyo government, no matter what Makino says. “We’d like to ask for your understanding on the reactivation, as it is crucial considering electricity demand estimates for the coming summer,” Makino said. But Kada responded, “We can understand the local economy will be negatively affected [if the reactors remain offline], but we have doubts regarding the transparency of information [for making the government’s decision, such as the electricity supply estimates].  [Makino’s briefings] were too abstract for us to move toward supporting [the restart].” (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui and Osaka city mayor Toru Hashimoto held a meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on Tuesday. The governor and mayor are at the fore-front of trying to stop the restarts of the Oi nukes. Together, they handed an 8-point proposal to Fujimura calling for no restarts of any nukes until a complete overhaul of Japan’s nuclear safety program is completed. However, the key element in the demand is expansion of the 30 km emergency planning zone around the Oi power complex, out to 100km. Without the expansion of the EPZ, Hashimoto will literally have no say in what happens at Oi because his city lies 80km from the site. Hashimoto said that it would be wrong for the government and politicians to declare a nuclear power plant safe while scientists and the Nuclear Safety Commission have still not expressed an opinion. Fujimura replied that the government will consider the 8-point plan in the future but that it intends to go ahead using the current procedures. (NHK World)
  • After the meeting with Secretary Fujimura, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said: “It’s absolutely unreasonable that the plant was declared safe by politicians alone without having scientists scrutinize its safety. This represents a serious crisis for the management of the central government.” The mayor reiterated his insistence on Tokyo including all local governments within 100km of a nuke in operating decisions. Regarding the reactivation of the Oi reactors, Fujimura was subsequently said, “The procedure [for restarting the reactors] is under way.” (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Industry Minister Yukio Edano says not restarting Japan’s nukes is a radical reform. While he doesn’t deny that his goal is a nuclear-free Japan, he feels the best approach is gradual. He says, “I’m fundamentally in favor of abandoning nuclear power generation, but if all nuclear power plants remain out of operation, it will force unreasonable power restrictions and electricity charge price increases, small- and medium-sized companies will collapse, and employment will become unstable in a chain of events that will cause confusion in society. And if that happens, then the momentum that has built up toward breaking away from nuclear power will die out, reliance (on nuclear plants) will return in force, and we’ll be helpless to do anything about it. For me, that’s the scariest scenario.” Edano denies a clash between himself and Democratic Party of Japan Policy Research Council Acting Chairman Yoshito Sengoku, “We share the opinion that if we suddenly stopped using nuclear power plants, then circumstances would become quite difficult. I think this would eventually result in a return to dependence on nuclear power plants, and I think Mr. Sengoku probably feels the same way.” Sengoku seemed to agree, “The media likes the scenario of a conspiracy, with somebody pulling the strings behind the scenes. I don’t really care (if such things are written about me), but if the formation of mid- to long-term policies become distorted as a result of that, then it becomes serious. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Suddenly, the desire to restart Ikata unit #3 in Ehime Prefecture is added to the mix. Procedures to reactivate the Ikata reactor will start after the Nuclear Safety Commission completes its screening of the Ikata stress test results. The industry ministry’s nuclear safety agency (NISA) has already approved the Ikata test results. But the commission has been refusing to carry out its own screening amid uncertainty about setting up the new regulatory agency. Earlier this month, the Commission endorsed the restart of Oi units #3&4, but severe political criticism from officials in Shiga and Kyoto Prefectures has made the NSC reluctant to make any further restart statements. Industry sources say it is possible that Ikata #3 will restart before Oi #3&4 because opposition in Ehime prefecture is considerably less than in Fukui, Shiga, and Kyoto prefectures. (Japan Times)

Now, for other important updates…

  • The chief of a government-appointed panel probing the Fukushima accident said Monday it has questioned former Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Panel Chairman Yotaro Hatamura said it is “not appropriate” to elaborate on what was said at the hearing, but added he felt the nation’s determined former leader spoke “frankly about his thoughts at that time.” (Japan Times)
  • Tepco plans to drill about a dozen groundwater diversion wells around the Fukushima Daiichi power complex. They believe this will turn about half of the in-seeping ground water away from the basements of units #1 through #4. For nearly six months, Tepco’s new water decontamination system has been merely maintaining water level in the buildings. Hopefully, the diversion tactic will allow Tepco to lower all the water levels enough to identify where the groundwater is getting in and take actions to stop it. Tepco says they will check groundwater contamination levels in the earth outside the plant before they drill the wells to ensure that no radioactive releases to the sea will happen. Tepco plans to have the diversion system in place and operating no later than October of this year. (Kyodo News)
  • Tokyo says some of the areas inside the 20km no-go zone may not be capable of being decontaminated enough for repopulation in ten years. Some officials feel these may be spots where decontamination work would be difficult, at best, in order to bring radiation exposures below 20 millisieverts per year. Other officials say the cost of decontamination in these “difficult” areas would be better used to provide evacuees with new housing somewhere else. Others say it is not up to the government to decide whether or not people should try to return to their homes, but rather the decision should rest with the evacuees themselves. (JAIF)
  • Three of the nine major electric companies in Japan say they will experience power shortages this summer if nukes are not restarted. All projections are based on the summer of 2010. Kansai Electric says they will have a minimum 16% shortfall, Kyushu Electric predicts a 4% deficit, and Hokkaido Electric says they will have a 3% shortage. Shikoku Electric says they have a less than 0.5% surplus predicted, but a summer hotter than 2010 could drive their system into a shortage. All other companies say they will have surplus of anywhere between 3% and 5%. The combined data, weighted for the number of customers each company serves, show a national 0.5% electricity shortfall for all of Japan. If the 2012 summer is as unusually hot as 2011, the situation will be even worse. The companies that are using old, polluting fossil-fueled plants to replace the currently idled nukes to sufficiently meet demand say electricity rates will increase because of the high cost of oil, LNG and coal. (Yomiuri Shimbun)