On Saturday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda approved the restart of Oi units #3 and 4. This effectively ends ex-PM Kan’s de-facto moratorium on nuclear operations. Within an hour of Noda’s announcement, the staff at Oi unit #3 began preparations for restart. It is believed #3 will be at full power on July 8th, and unit #4 on July 24th. Noda made his announcement following a meeting with Fukui governor Issei Nishikawa agreed to the restart because the government pledged to increase its efforts to ensure safety. However, the official restart declaration has caused a wide diversity of opinions to be reported across the spectrum of Japan’s Press. Here’s a few of them…

  • The Prime Minister’s office in Tokyo was descended upon by about 400 citizens protesting the move. One protestor said it is unacceptable to restart the plant as the cause of the Fukushima accident has not been satisfactorily clarified. Another said the safety of nuclear plants has not been sufficiently assured.
  • Local residents who reside near other nuclear plants have mixed feelings about Noda’s decision. A woman in Shizuoka Prefecture who lives near the Hamaoka nuke said, “I think that uncovering the causes of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant accident and establishment of the nuclear power regulation agency should come first, but if the Kansai area will really be short of electricity this summer, then restarting the reactors can’t be avoided. However, there should be a limit to the period of operation.” A man who lives next to the Ikata nuke said “If the nukes aren’t restarted, the local economies will suffer.” A woman in Ibaraki Prefecture near the Tokai nukes an opposing view, “There are people who have committed suicide because of the nuclear disaster (at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant). I feel powerless and angry. The fact that the government has to go through various processes in order to restart the reactors reflects the power of the public. … We cannot let the voices against nuclear power disappear.” Perhaps the most adamant anger comes from Fukushima Prefecture, as shown by a woman from Iitate, “I’m exasperated and speechless. The nuclear disaster did not just upset our lives; it also crushes people’s spirits. I can only conclude that the Fukushima disaster hasn’t served as a lesson.” (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Many Fukushima town mayors and evacuees are critical of the Oi restarts. Katsuya Endo, Mayor of Tomioka town, which was designated as a no-entry zone, said he feels strong indignation at the government decision and believes the prime minister has forgotten the sorrow felt in Fukushima. Mayor Tomotsu Baba of Namie feels the accident at the Fukushima plant has not yet been contained and government panels have not compiled reports on the Fukushima disaster. A man from Kuwauchi village said those who decided on the restart must be thinking that the Fukushima disaster was not their own affair. A woman from Futaba said she is willing to reduce her energy consumption as much as needed if it means the end of nuclear energy. She added that the government put priority on the economy and ignores the sanctity of people’s lives. (NHK World)
  • A relatively small group of former and current mayors in Japan have virtually condemned the Oi restart decision. Out of the ~770 current mayors and more than a thousand former mayors, the group of 73 held a news conference Sunday to show their extreme displeasure. They accused Tokyo of sidestepping efforts to insure safety and alleged that the new standards under which the Oi plants are being restarted are “makeshift” (haphazard). The government should have waited until the new watchdog agency is formed and fully functional before restarting any nukes. Further, Fukushima demonstrated nuclear energy is a national, not merely a local hazard. Consent for restart from only the local communities is unacceptable. All communities should be involved in the decision. A formal letter of protest will be submitted to PM Noda today. (NHK World)
  • The critics in the Diet rapped the premier for moving too hastily. Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima told reporters, “I don’t know why (the government) has to restart them in a big hurry when their safety cannot be assured. [The restart would be] an act of outrage and we will strongly protest against it.” (Kyodo News)
  • Opposition voices have cried out of the minority political groups in Japan. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara says the reactors should be restarted only after the safety of all reactors is confirmed by a new regulatory organization. Leader of New Komei, Natsuo Yamaguchi, says the government gave priority to securing a stable supply of power ahead of securing safety. Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii calls the government’s decision impermissible. Social Democratic Party’s Mizuho Fukushima said the government’s decision is outrageous. (NHK World)
  • Letters of protest over the Oi decision have come from anti-nuclear sources all over the world. Antinuclear activists and politicians in many countries have criticized Tokyo and are holding rallies outside Japanese embassies and consulates. The German green party unanimously agreed to oppose the restarts. An Italian petition with 3,700 signatures was presented to the Japanese consulate in Rome. Sen. Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens sent a letter of protest June 12 to Japan’s Embassy in Canberra. In America, protest gatherings are scheduled for this week in Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. (Japan Times)
  • Finally, Asahi Shimbun editorializes, “The decision by the central government on June 16 to resume operations at the Oi nuclear power plant is yet another attempt to rely on the myth of the safety of nuclear power plants”.

In other Fukushima news stories…

  • The Diet says the new nuclear regulatory system should be in operation within three months. The new law, expected to be approved by the upper house, would create a five-member independent nuclear regulatory commission and a nuclear regulatory agency to enforce regulations. Although the time-table is much more prolonged than most in Japan might want, it is the lack of a 40-year operating limit on nukes that has drawn the most fire. More than a dozen of the country’s 50 reactors are at least three decades old, with three already operating for about 40 years. Many believe 40 years is too old to continue safe operation. “Does this reflect the sentiment of the citizens, who are seeking an exit from nuclear power?” queried an editorial in the Tokyo Shimbun, “Won’t it instead make what was supposed to be a rare exception par for the course?” (Japan Today)
  • Japanese electric utilities are concerned about how well their thermal (fossil-fueled) power plants will operate in a constant state of full power operation. Even with the two Oi restarts, there will be very little reserve power available. The thermal plant’s records over the past several months have not been promising. Thermal plants experience relatively rapid corrosion and system degradation which forces rather frequent maintenance periods with the plant’s off-line. The current power crunch has caused companies to keep them running, and scheduled maintenance has been put on hold. Many of the thermal plants have never been run this long before, which makes worries even greater. “The risk of drops in our thermal power generating capacity due to facility flaws may have been heightened,” Kepco President Makoto Yagi said. “The facilities’ age is being exacerbated by the high operating rate,” a Hokkaido Electric official noted. “But we cannot afford to conduct thorough examinations.” An unnamed power industry official added, “The (supply and demand) situation is more severe than last summer despite the reactor restarts.” (Japan Times)