Mixed reaction to reactivation of nuclear power plant in Japan

TOKYO - Local governments and residents responded with a mixture of happiness and anxiety after the government officially decided Saturday to reactivate reactors Nos. 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant.

"The government should restart the reactors as quickly as possible on its own responsibility," a local official said.

Local governments in areas where other nuclear power plants are located voiced support for the government's decision and hope that reactors at their nuclear plants would also be reactivated.


But other local government heads reiterated their demands that the government make more efforts to secure the safety of nuclear plants. One was the governor of Shizuoka Prefecture, which hosts Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka nuclear power plant.

Mayor Yasuo Echizen of Higashidori, Aomori Prefecture, a village that is home to Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s Higashidori nuclear power plant, expressed his hope that the decision to reactivate the Oi plant will support the reactivation of reactors at the Higashidori plant.

"I want the government to allow the nuclear plant in our village to restart after improvements like those at the Oi plant are made," he said.

The No. 1 reactor of the Higashidori plant was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March last year while it was idled for regular inspections. It has remained idle ever since.

Though the first-stage results of stress tests were submitted to the government, it was decided in May to conduct another examination on a fault found inside the plant's premises.

Thus it is uncertain when the plant's reactor will be reactivated. The number of workers at the nuclear plant fell to 800 from 1,800 just after the disaster.

Yusaku Nihonyanagi, 65, head of the village's chamber of commerce and industry, said, "Our village has co-existed with the nuclear power plant for many years."

He lamented that sales at a gasoline station he runs have fallen significantly since the nuclear plant stopped operation.

"For the flow of money through the economy as well, I want the government to have the plant restart as soon as possible on its own responsibility," he said.

The Hamaoka plant in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, was idled in May last year on the instructions of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Kan's decision was prompted by a prediction that there is a high probability a Tokai earthquake of about magnitude 8 will occur within 30 years.

If the Hamaoka plant, which is inside the focal area, suffers a serious crisis, it could cut off vital traffic routes such as the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train line and the Tomei Expressway.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu praised Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's political decision that reactivation of the Oi reactors is necessary.

"Electricity is like blood, which is essential for people to live. His stance was realistic," he said.

But the governor also expressed caution about restarting the Hamaoka reactors.

"It was a political judgment assuming (the Oi plant) is safe for the moment under current standards. It does not mean the plant is perfectly safe," he said.

As the centerpiece of its anti-tsunami measures, Chubu Electric Power Co. is building an 18-meter-high (19-yards-high) breakwater, which it aims to complete in December.

But in the midst of the work, the Cabinet Office's experts panel in March released a forecast that tsunami in the event of a gigantic quake caused by the Nankai Trough could reach up to 20 meters (21.8 yards) high at the Hamaoka plant.

Thus the company is reexamining whether the currently planned safety measures will be sufficient.

Toshihiko Matsui, 64, chairman of Omaezaki's municipal tourism association, said, "I think reactivation at the Oi plant is good news for Omaezaki, too, but the Hamaoka plant and the Oi plant are different issues."

Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, a town wholly inside the no-entry zone since the start of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, said about the decision to restart the Oi plant, "As safety has been prioritized, local entities seem to have given consent.

"But my feelings are complicated. I want the government to ensure accidents will never occur," he added.

Near the Prime Minister's Office on Saturday, about 500 people held a protest, including members of citizens groups opposing reactivation.

They shouted slogans and carried banners reading, "We will block reactivation of the Oi plant."




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