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Restarts: New deal fairer to municipalities?

June 3, 2018



EDITORIAL: Tokai nuke plant deal with local entities a model for all restarts



Cities and towns adjacent to areas where nuclear power plants are located have no say over plant operators’ decisions to restart offline reactors even though they face safety risks similar to those borne by nuclear host communities.


The recent agreement between the operator of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture and surrounding municipalities is a big step toward fixing the serious flaw in the procedure for obtaining local approval for reactor operations.


Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC) agreed on March 29 to seek approval from five surrounding municipalities including the city of Mito as well as Tokai village, which hosts the nuclear plant, and the prefecture before bringing its idled reactor back on stream.


The agreement expands the scope of local governments that have the effective “right to consent” concerning JAPC’s decisions to restart its reactor at the plant beyond the host town to include surrounding municipalities.


It was the first time that a nuclear power plant operator has agreed in writing to obtain prior consent on the restart of its reactors from surrounding municipalities.


JAPC is currently working to restart the boiling water reactor. About 1 million people live within 30 kilometers of the plant, more than in any other 30-km area around a nuclear plant in this nation.


In Japan, municipalities located within a 30-km radius from nuclear plants are required to craft evacuation plans to prepare for possible accidents at those facilities.


Many of the local governments within this area are struggling to work out effective and plausible evacuation plans, while local residents are living in anxiety.


The five municipalities located in the 30-km area had been demanding that they be given the same “right to consent” as that enjoyed by Tokai.


The agreement stipulates that it effectively establishes a system that requires the plant operator to obtain “prior consent” from the six municipalities to any decision to restart the reactor through prior consultation with them.


The deal represents progress toward a more democratic process of building a consensus among the parties concerned.


But the agreement leaves some important questions unanswered, such as what if the six municipalities fail to reach an agreement. The plant operator should implement the agreement in a way that places the highest priority on the safety of local residents. It should be willing to continue prior negotiations until it obtains consent from all the local governments involved.


Local governments in various parts of the nation, including the Kansai and the Kyushu regions, have taken exception to the current system, which only gives the right to consent to the prefectures and host municipalities involved.


Surrounding communities have every right to demand that they also have a say over decisions to restart reactors given that they have to bear the burdens of accepting the risk of accidents and developing evacuation plans.


But electric utilities operating nuclear plants loathe facing higher barriers to resuming the operations of reactors.


If they want to win the trust of local communities, however, they should shed their reluctance to seek approval from a wider range of local governments.


The agreement between JAPC and the local governments is not legally binding and is vague about the company’s responsibility for the safety of local residents.


The government has said it is “not in a position” to get involved in such an agreement between an electric utility and local governments.


But the government should be accused of irresponsibility if it acts like a bystander with regard to this issue.


The government should instead take the initiative for new legislation to establish formal rules for agreements between nuclear utilities and local communities over operational decisions.


Close cooperation among Ibaraki Prefecture, Tokai and the five surrounding municipalities has opened the door to their agreement with JAPC.


In many areas with nuclear plants, however, there is a rift between the host communities and surrounding municipalities.


The prefectural governments in such areas can play an important role in solving the rift.

The latest agreement--call it the “Ibaraki formula”--should set a model for other areas facing the same problem.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 3



March 30, 2018



Japan Atomic Power grants local gov'ts say in reactor restart under new agreement



Japan Atomic Power grants local gov'ts say in reactor restart under new agreement

Japan Atomic Power Co. has agreed to give not only the Tokai Municipal Government that hosts the company's Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant but also five surrounding municipalities the right to effectively approve reactivation of the plant.

This is apparently the first agreement in Japan that gives not only local bodies hosting a nuclear plant but also surrounding municipalities such a right.

The five local bodies are Mito, Hitachi, Hitachinaka, Naka and Hitachiota in Ibaraki Prefecture, all within a 30-kilometer radius of the power plant. The mayors of these five municipalities plus Tokai gathered with Japan Atomic President Mamoru Muramatsu at the Tokai Municipal Government headquarters on the evening of March 29 and signed the accord.

Under the agreement, all six municipal governments can express opinions on reactivation of the plant or any extension of its operational life, and demand explanations from the plant operator.

There have been growing calls from municipalities surrounding those hosting nuclear plants for the right to approve the stations' operations following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. However, most nuclear plant operators have refused to grant such rights to local bodies not actually hosting a plant.


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