Commentary – Oi 3 & 4 restarts…a hasty decision?

The Japanese government has approved the startup of Oi nuclear units 3 and 4 in Fukui Prefecture, on the west-central Kansai region. Immediately, political nay-sayers across Japan and irresponsible green-energy obsessives around the world are spouting that it is a “hasty decision” due to on-going angst spawned by the Fukushima nuclear accident. Citizens unceremoniously ripped from their homes due to the politically-mandated evacuations in Fukushima Prefecture are outraged. And, 400 anti-nuclear zealots descended on the government in Tokyo to show their anger and frustration while a sympathetic Press gave them full, international exposure.

Hasty decision? There is nothing hasty about it. The word itself is defined as “impulsive, brazen, uncontrolled, without much thought or attention”. There is no basis for this wildly speculative rhetorical criticism on the Prime Minister and the local officials associated with the Oi nuclear power complex. Those who have followed the on-going soap opera that has ear-marked the Oi restart issue realizes every step has been careful and overly-cautious. The nukes at Oi suffered no damage due to the 3/11/11 quake/tsunami. The natural calamity that devastated the Tohoku region happened on the opposite coast. Both units were capable of safe, clean operation more than a year ago. The earthquake resistance “stress tests” for both units have long been passed with flying colors. All mandated safety upgrades have been made. Any rational observer would conclude the resumption of nuclear power in Japan is warranted and long overdue. The process has been controlled and painstaking. The decision is in no way hasty. In fact, it’s about time!

The restart issue finds its seminal roots in a hasty decision made by then-PM Naoto Kan soon after the Fukushima Daiichi plants were brought under effective control in late March of last year. Kan mandated that all of the nukes that were shut down for routine maintenance and refueling had to remain shuttered. All operating nukes would be similarly shuttered when their scheduled outages began. 30% of Japan’s electricity production is nuclear. As of early June this year, all of them were closed. No country on this planet could possibly survive if 30% of its electrical infrastructure were suddenly removed from the picture. While there is no legal mandate for acquiring local approval before a nuke restart, Tokyo decided to take the ultra-safe, politically-expedient path and wait for endorsements out of Oi town and Fukui Prefecture while fossil-burning pollution is disgorged into the air breathed by everyone in Japan. The wait has ended.

Now that the permission for the Oi restarts has manifested, tacit condemnations pour down from the news media’s heavens. Pie-in-the-sky alternative energy proponents and the prophets of nuclear energy doom around the world want all the Japanese nukes to remain shuttered and force Japan into becoming a guinea pig for their grand experiment with people’s lives. They want to place the innocent Japanese people in the clutches of intermittently-operating, currently non-existent renewables combined with even tighter electricity restriction than is already the case. All the while, increased thermal plant offal contaminates the environment and chokes the air passages of the populace. These selfish groups and individuals don’t give a tinker’s damn about the people of Japan. All they care about is giving their vision of a future energy panacea a place to be tested. The Japanese people saved as much energy as they could last summer, and rolling brown-outs were common-place. This was while numerous nukes were still operating. As the moratorium advanced, old, pollution-spawning “thermal” (fossil fueled) units were brought out of mothballs and run continuously during the winter, barely keeeping Japan’s electrical grid from running catastrophically short on supply. Without the Oi units running, blackouts in the Kansai region would be a virtual certainty. I remember sweltering with the blackout of the American Northeast during the summer of 2003 and the broiling heat that no-one could escape for more than 24 hours. 55 million people in America and Canada suffered immensely. At least a dozen people died from the heat or related effects.  To be blunt, it sucked! That calamity was accidental, but an electrical calamity in Japan would be literally intentional without Oi units 3 & 4. When the summer heat hits, Japan has no other rational, realistic choice but to restart a few nukes. Without the Oi power plants operating, the summer heat throughout the Kansai region would cause people to literally cook in the discomfort of their own, unlit homes.