EDITORIAL: Approval to restart Takahama reactors based on unmet conditions, weak promises
The Fukui District Court recently nullified its earlier injunction against reactivating the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
Kansai Electric Power Co., operator of the nuclear plant in the town of Takahama, is expected to restart one of the two reactors as early as late January.
But the procedure for obtaining the approval of the hosting government of Fukui Prefecture, which was completed immediately before the court decision, was laden with problems. We oppose moves to press ahead with the planned restarts under the current circumstances.
Fifteen nuclear reactors are concentrated in Fukui Prefecture, including some for which decisions have been made for decommissioning.
Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa set five conditions for his approval, calling on the central government and Kansai Electric to clearly pinpoint their responsibilities.
Public opinion has consistently been cautious about restarting nuclear reactors following the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Nishikawa called strongly on the central government to “promote public understanding,” and he obtained Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assurances that he will ensure that meetings with residents will be held across Japan for that purpose.
The governor called on Kansai Electric to precisely explain when it plans to build an interim storage facility outside Fukui Prefecture for spent nuclear fuel. The utility said in November that it will locate the site for the facility around 2020 and have it operational around 2030.
Nishikawa said he believes that all his conditions have been met. But the substantiality of those commitments remains questionable.
Kansai Electric has said it hopes to install an interim storage facility somewhere in the Kansai region, and it has long been canvassing local governments for their understanding. But resistance to hosting such a facility remains strong, and the building site is not likely to be selected any time soon. There is no denying suspicions that the plan could end up as an empty promise.
Questions also remain on the extent to which Nishikawa has fulfilled his own responsibilities.
He has never had the prefectural government organize meetings with local residents, saying it is up to the central government and the plant operators to explain the safety and necessity of nuclear plants.
An emergency evacuation plan for areas within a 30-kilometer radius of the Takahama nuclear plant was only worked out earlier this month. That zone contains parts of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures and has a total population of about 180,000.
But Nishikawa approved the planned restarts without waiting for a drill held across prefectural borders, arguing that working out an emergency evacuation plan is not a legal requisite for restarting a nuclear reactor.
Obtaining the host communities’ approval for a reactor restart should primarily be a process to enhance the safety and peace of mind of local residents.
It is all too regretful that another undesirable example has been set, following the earlier approvals to restart the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture and the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture.
The central government was also quite candid in postulating that restarting nuclear reactors is a foregone conclusion. Industry minister Motoo Hayashi visited Fukui, the capital of Fukui Prefecture, four days before the court decision to ask Nishikawa for his approval.
The local governments and residents of communities adjacent to nuclear plants are strongly dissatisfied that they have no say in decisions on reactor restarts. Kansai Electric has rejected the demands of the Kyoto and Shiga prefectural governments for inclusion on the list of “hosting communities,” whose approvals are required for restarting reactors of the Takahama nuclear plant. The central government has only been looking on, arguing that approvals of the hosting communities are not a legal requirement.
Abe has said he will provide explanations to gain the public’s understanding of the importance of nuclear power generation. That leads us to believe that he should also be presenting guidelines on the extent and coverage of the “hosting communities,” whose approvals are necessary for nuclear restarts.