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No way of including residents' opinions on restart

September 11, 2014

Editorial: Move to restart reactors without sufficient debate a huge mistake




The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has approved a screening document giving the No. 1 and 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Sendai Nuclear Power Plant a pass under new screening standards -- a first in Japan.

The power company is now stepping up efforts to gain local consent to restart the reactors. But many issues have been left unaddressed, and we cannot accept reactivation without proper debate on these issues.

Two months before the screening document was adopted, the Mainichi Shimbun proposed two minimum conditions for restarting the reactors: preparing a way to curb damage to residents based on lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and having the government outline a roadmap for eliminating dependence on nuclear power and clarify where the reactivation of nuclear reactors is positioned within the nation's overall energy strategy.

This month the government sent workers to Kagoshima Prefecture, among other areas, to help formulate evacuation plans that would be implemented in the event of a nuclear accident. It is also considering making power companies present maintenance plans for aging reactors and urging utilities to reach a decision on whether to decommission or extend the life of their reactors.

But these measures have come too late, and even if they guarantee the effectiveness of evacuation plans, we still have no outline of how the nation can free itself from reliance on nuclear power.

The government says it plans to proceed with restarting nuclear power plants that have passed NRA screening. But it has not explained how it plans to obtain the consent it needs from local bodies for the plants to go into operation.

Under current rules, power companies must obtain consent from prefectural governments, as well as cities, towns or villages, where the nuclear power plants are located. But that leaves restarting nuclear reactors entirely in the hands of power companies and local bodies.

Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito has asked the government to state in writing why it is necessary to reactivate the Sendai plant's nuclear reactors. In doing so he has expressed the position that the government bears responsibility for restarting the reactors. The government intends to comply, but this must not end up a mere ceremony.

It is feared that if nuclear power plants are not restarted, then imports of fossil fuels will be pushed up, which could negatively affect the economy. But the risk of accidents that goes hand in hand with reactivation of nuclear reactors remains. So why are officials deciding to restart these reactors? Are we perfectly prepared for any accident that could occur?

The government has a responsibility to spend time explaining the issue to the public, deepen discussion, and reflect this in its policies.

When proceeding to gain consent for reactivation from local bodies, the government must deeply respect the opinions not only of the municipalities where the reactors are located, but also those within a 30-kilometer radius of the nuclear power plant, where evacuation plans must be prepared.

In July, the municipal assembly of the city of Aira, which lies within 30 kilometers of the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, expressed opposition to restarting the plant's reactors, stating that residents felt uneasy about evacuation plans. It approved a document calling for the reactors to be decommissioned. In the Kagoshima Prefecture city of Ichikikushikino, meanwhile, more than half of the city's residents signed a petition opposing reactivation.

However, as is the case with the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant and many other nuclear facilities, there exists no mechanism enabling the opinions of residents in these neighboring municipalities to be reflected in decisions on whether or not nuclear reactors should be restarted.

Municipalities hosting nuclear power plants tend to favor reactivation due to the strong economic ties they have to those plants. If the government and power companies are hoping they can restrict consent for activation of nuclear power plants to as small a sphere as possible, then they are making a huge mistake.

September 11, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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