TOKYO: More than three years after the Fukushima disaster, the final
obstacle to restarting two nuclear reactors in Japan was removed on Friday when local politicians granted their approval for a plant in the south to go back online.
The green light from the assembly and governor of Kagoshima prefecture, in the south of the country, marks a victory for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe which has faced significant public opposition to its drive to re-fire nuclear power.
“I want to inform the eco-nomy, trade and industry minister about my understanding of the government’s policy to push for restarting nuclear power plants,” Governor Yuichiro Ito told a news conference, adding he had considered “various situations comprehensively.”
Ito’s finely parsed statement, which offers apparently reluctant support for a policy that is out of his hands, is typical of Japanese politicians dealing with the hot potato of nuclear power in a country now largely hostile to it.
The local go-ahead came after the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) said in September it believed the two units at Sendai met toughened safety standards introduced after the Fukushima accident.
The actual restart, however, is likely to be delayed until next year as technical procedures are still under way, including more NRA approvals for remedial work at the site.
Japan’s entire stable of nuclear power stations were gradually switched off after the tsunami-sparked catastrophe at Fukushima, when the breakdown of cooling systems sent reactors into meltdown.
Two were briefly restarted in 2012 but their power-down last September heralded an entirely nuclear-free Japan.
While Prime Minister Abe’s government and much of industry is keen to get back to atomic generation—largely because of the soaring costs of dollar-denominated fossil fuels to an economy with a plunging currency—the public is unconvinced.
Communities living right next door to nuclear plants, who often enjoy grants from utility companies and depend on the power stations for employment, are frequently sympathetic to restarts.
However, there is hostility from those living further afield who enjoy no direct benefits but see themselves as in the firing line in the event of another accident like Fukushima.
Permission from local representatives will be good news for pro-nuclear Abe, who has set his heart on persuading his wary electorate that the world’s third largest economy must return to an energy source that once supplied more than a quarter of its power.
Fukushima was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, with many of them still displaced amid warnings some areas might have to be abandoned forever. AFP