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So many contradictions

October 4, 2012


Editorial: Resumption of construction on Oma nuclear plant contradicts zero-nuclear policy




The resumption of construction work on the Oma Nuclear Power Plant in Aomori Prefecture contradicts with the government's policy of eliminating all nuclear plants by the 2030s.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano has given the green light to the resumption of the work, which had been suspended since the outbreak of the crisis at the tsunami-stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant.

In addition to an end to Japan's reliance on atomic power, the government's Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment stipulates that nuclear reactors must be decommissioned after 40 years in operation and that no more nuclear plants must be build in principle.

If the Oma plant is put into operation in accordance with these principles, Japan cannot achieve its goal of eliminating nuclear power by the 2030s. The explanation that the construction of the Oma nuclear plant, which had begun before the strategy was worked out, does not constitute new construction under the strategy is purely a fabrication.

Since the owner of the plant J-Power, which is officially called Electric Power Development Co., is a private company, it is difficult for the government to ban the firm from resuming its construction work. However, nuclear power plants in Japan have been built in accordance with national policy. The government should stick to its new nuclear power policy it has worked out in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Other questions remain about the Oma plant. Currently, the newly established Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is drafting new safety standards for nuclear power stations. The authority is scheduled to unveil the outline of the standards in spring 2013 and complete the standards in the summer of the same year. Even if the power supplier continues construction of the Oma plant, it cannot be operated if it fails to meet the new standards.

Since the world's first reactor that uses only plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide fuel will be installed at the power station, the NRA needs to conduct a particularly cautious and strict inspection on the facility's safety. As such, one cannot help but wonder why J-Power is making haste in building the plant.

Under the new guidelines for nuclear disasters, priority zones where special nuclear disaster prevention measures must be implemented will soon be expanded to cover areas 30 kilometers from nuclear plants. Therefore, it is only natural that the city of Hakodate in Hokkaido, which falls in such a zone around the Oma plant, has voiced stiff opposition to the construction.

Furthermore, the government's decision to continue the nuclear fuel cycle project, in which plutonium is extracted from spent nuclear fuel and used for fast-breeder reactors, is also currently inconsistent with the zero nuclear power policy. Needless to say, it is necessary for the government to show consideration to the local community that is expected to host a fuel processing plant, but the government has failed to clarify how it intends to keep consistency between the project and the no nuclear power policy.

The government has been confused over how to judge whether idled nuclear reactors can be reactivated. The NRA says it will judge the safety of nuclear reactors but not whether operations at the reactors can be resumed. However, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda states that the regulation authority will play a leading role in deciding whether to give the green light to reactivation.

Noda has expressed concern that political intervention could impair the independence of the regulation authority. However, politics must not intervene in the scientific judgment of the safety of nuclear reactors. The government must take responsibility for deciding whether to grant permission for the reactivation of nuclear reactors based on judgment of safety made by the authority and in line with its energy policy.

The government should seriously try to achieve its goal of eliminating nuclear power by the 2030s, instead of taking ad hoc measures to respond to the situation.

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