29 Juin 2013
June 29, 2013
A serious accident at a nuclear power plant inevitably causes damage to a very wide range of areas.
Even this most fundamental of lessons of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has yet to be absorbed effectively into the process of developing nuclear power policy in this nation.
Following the devastating accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government widened special priority zones to a 30-kilometer radius around a nuclear power plant from 8 to 10 km. Communities within these zones must make special preparations for nuclear accidents.
The expansion increased the number of local governments within the special priority areas from 45 municipalities to 135.
If an idled nuclear reactor is restarted, it is vital to obtain the consent of all the municipal governments within the zone.
In fact, such local governments have been seeking agreements with regional electric power companies to require utilities to receive the consent of the municipalities if they want to bring a nuclear reactor back online. Similar agreements exist between utilities and the governments of cities and towns where nuclear plants are located.
But there has been little progress in the talks for such deals. Kansai Electric Power Co., which wants to restart its Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture as soon as possible, has been in talks with municipal governments in Kyoto and Shiga prefectures that are located within 30 km of the plant. But the utility has so far refused to grant their requests.
Some local governments that host nuclear power plants are opposed to the central government’s policy of expanding areas subject to its special damage mitigation measures.
Fukui Prefecture has 14 nuclear reactors, more than any other prefecture in Japan. There are concerns that a major natural disaster could trigger accidents at many of these reactors.
But the prefectural government has postponed talks with local governments in neighboring prefectures over cooperation in responding to nuclear accidents under the pretext that the central government’s evacuation criteria are vague. Fukui has developed its own response plan that limits evacuation sites to places within the prefecture.
As a result, during an evacuation drill conducted in June on the supposition of a severe accident at the Mihama nuclear power plant, residents in the town of Mihama followed the prefecture’s evacuation plan. They took refuge in the town of Oi within the prefecture, home to the Oi nuclear plant, instead of a location in neighboring Shiga Prefecture, which is farther away from the nuclear plants.
Does this qualify as an evacuation plan that puts the highest priority on the safety of local residents?
Behind the Fukui prefectural government’s attitude is cozy relations between the operators of nuclear power plants and the local governments concerned. These companies provide contributions to the local governments and create jobs in the their communities. In return, the local governments accept dangerous nuclear facilities.
If more communities become part of the special priority zones, it will become harder for utilities to restart their idled reactors, while the local governments may find the benefits they receive by accepting nuclear plants reduced.
Such concerns appear to be affecting the actions of the nuclear plant operators and the local governments concerned. This behavior is sickening considering the nation has witnessed the harrowing consequences of a serious nuclear accident. The collusive ties between the utilities and the local governments are unacceptable.
Nuclear plant operators should work out agreements with all local governments within a 30-km radius of their plants to establish a multilayered monitoring system. Local governments around nuclear plants should cooperate on a region-wide level to enhance their influence on issues concerning nuclear safety. They should also develop effective evacuation plans for emergencies.
Instead of mutual back scratching, both sides need to build healthy but tense relations based on the principle that the safety of residents should come first.
In addition, some reactors will not be restarted because they fail to meet the new safety standards.
Local governments that have been supporting the central government’s policy of promoting nuclear power generation are in a tough situation. It is by no means easy for these governments to change their policies and start reducing their dependence on the nuclear power business.
Even Fukui Prefecture has set a goal of diversifying its energy sources. It has started to make efforts to carve out a future less dependent on nuclear energy, such as seeking a terminal for liquefied natural gas located within the prefecture.
Instead of focusing its policy efforts on winning support for restarting reactors, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should pour more energy into helping local communities around nuclear power plants map out a new, economically independent future for themselves.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 29