19 Mars 2012
March 19, 2012
Local governments grappling with the issue of whether to resume idled nuclear reactors are in a bind.
Many municipalities had been expecting the central government to show leadership in deciding on the merits--or otherwise--of restarting nuclear reactors. But until recently, it was unclear whether the central government would decide to restart suspended reactors prior to gaining the consent of local governments concerned.
While local governments have the most to gain--or lose--from nuclear plants, they also have a responsibility to convey the feelings of their residents to powers higher up the chain.
However, the government indicated this month that it would make a final decision on reactivating the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three relevant Cabinet ministers make a political decision and gain understanding from local governments and residents.
Putting the onus on local governments to approve the restart of reactors is a huge burden. Any nuclear accident could have an impact on an area far wider than the municipality hosting a reactor--as the crisis that started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March last year made clear.
In a survey on this issue, many local governments shared their concerns.
"At a time when a mountain of problems need to be resolved, a local government can't make a decision unless the central government has made its decision," the Matsue municipal government in Shimane Prefecture said.
The central government is expected in the weeks and months ahead to fully explain to local governments that host nuclear plants that the reactors are safe to restart, and gain their approval for the resumption of operations by dispelling the concerns of local residents.
But it is local governments that suffer the heaviest damage when a serious accident happens at a nuclear plant. They are also the ones that would benefit the most economically from restarting a nuclear plant, as subsidies from the central government pour in and jobs are created.
It has become clear that the central government bears responsibility for reopening nuclear plants. However, it is still local government leaders who are responsible for protecting local residents and conveying their wishes to the central government and power companies.