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Sendai plant perfectly safe, says Mayor

October 29, 2014

Mayor says Sendai plant able to withstand any disaster, despite misgivings



SATSUMA-SENDAI, Kagoshima Prefecture--Mayor Hideo Iwakiri asserted that the Sendai nuclear power plant can withstand any disaster, a position that is at odds with the nuclear watchdog's contention that 100-percent safety can never be guaranteed.

While Iwakiri was savoring the decision to move toward a restart, some mayors from municipalities in disaster-stricken Fukushima Prefecture said not enough had been done to figure out proper evacuation procedures in the case of a nuclear accident.

Iwakiri said the two-reactor facility, which received clearance to be reactivated under new rules imposed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, could withstand a Fukushima-level disaster.

“I believe the central government has effectively ensured the safety of the plant. That is why I made a final decision as early as possible,” Iwakiri said at a news conference on the evening of Oct. 28 after he and the municipal assembly approved the restart of the facility.

The town became the first to approve the restart of a nuclear plant under stricter safety requirements following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

“I believe the plant can 100 percent cope with a tsunami and earthquake on the scale that hit Fukushima as well as a possible nuclear accident,” Iwakiri said.

The mayor has been a major backer of nuclear energy even after the Fukushima catastrophe.

Asked about the possibility of multiple disasters involving a typhoon, an earthquake and a volcanic eruption simultaneously striking the plant, Iwakiri said it was not something he gave any “consideration to at this moment.”

Such a multiple disaster was not contemplated when the NRA screened the plant's safety.

His assurance that the Sendai plant is absolutely safe is at odds with the NRA's opinion.

In releasing a draft review paper for the Sendai plant in July, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the NRA, declined to state that the plant is absolutely safe.

During briefings to local residents, the Secretariat of the NRA said it was impossible to make such a guarantee.

With the city’s approval, the plant can be rebooted early next year once operator Kyushu Electric Power Co. completes the necessary paperwork and on-site operational checks.

Iwakiri, a former city employee and deputy mayor, has long supported the city’s nuclear policies because of the economic benefits they bring.

During his campaign for the 2012 mayoral election, in which he sought a second term, Iwakiri pledged to restart of the Sendai plant as soon as the central government confirms its safety. He scored a landslide victory over a rookie candidate who opposed nuclear energy.

The local chamber of commerce estimates that the plant generates 600 million yen ($5.55 million) each year to the city of 100,000 people.

Koichi Miyamoto, mayor of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, located within a mandatory evacuation zone since the Fukushima nuclear accident, empathized with Satsuma-Sendai’s decision, saying that keeping the nuclear plant idle had a direct impact on local employment and budgetary requirements of host municipalities.

However, he said all municipalities within a 30-kilometer radius of a nuclear plant should be allowed to have a say in whether or not to resume operations as their cooperation is essential in evacuating residents in a case of accident.

"It remains unclear what routes evacuees should take in a case of accident. The central government has not fulfilled its responsibility if it leaves everything up to local municipalities in drawing up evacuation plans," Miyamoto said.

(This article was written by Takayuki Kozaki and Naoyuki Takahashi.)

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