(Mainichi Japan) May 5, 2011
Gov't intervention necessary if Hamaoka nuke plant can't make decision to shut down

"The Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant should be stopped," said a participant in a meeting on the state of the economy, where Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Cabinet members were among those present.

Banri Kaieda, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that oversees the power industry, refrained from making a rebuttal.

Taken aback by the sudden introduction of the issue, others at the meeting maintained their silence.

While debate was avoided, the fact that a government official called for the shutdown of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant sent shockwaves through the various ministries and the power industry.

While it may appear as though the government is not considering the possibility of closing down any nuclear power plant besides the one in Fukushima, that is not the case.

Behind the scenes, there have been sporadic discussions along the following lines:

"The Hamaoka plant is dangerous."

"But there's no legal basis on which to differentiate the Hamaoka plant from the others and stop just that one while others keep running."

"Isn't it politicians' job to prevent foreseeable danger?"

"If we make any ill-planned moves, we'll provoke local governments, the call to stop the plant will extend to all nuclear power plants, and things will get out of control."

We've finally reached a tricky state of affairs where we may see the push to stop the Hamaoka plant spread throughout the administration -- or not.

So what exactly is the problem with the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant?

First, it is located in the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Omaezaki, right atop the predicted epicenter of a great Tokai earthquake that experts have been warning for years will strike.

According to Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist and professor emeritus at Kobe University, the surface of the fault where the quake is predicted to originate is located close to the surface of the ground, where the soil is soft, so if a major quake were to occur, severe ground upheaval cannot be avoided.

This makes the site of the Hamaoka plant an unusually bad one for a nuclear power station.

In 2008, the government's Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion predicted that there was an 87-percent chance that a magnitude-8 range Tokai earthquake will occur in the next 30 years, and stepped up anti-disaster measures particularly in the Tokai region.

And yet, the Hamaoka plant has continued to run and has even been expanded, coming out victorious in lawsuits that sought to stop its operation, with the judge accepting the argument that the plant is capable of withstanding a magnitude-8 temblor. What about a magnitude-9 quake, then, like the one that struck on March 11?

A former chief of the Science and Technology Agency's Atomic Energy Bureau is of the opinion that stopping the Hamaoka plant because of "potential risks" is a shortsighted response. He was quoted in the April 29 issue of the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper as saying that the external power source that controls operations at the Hamaoka plant is far more reliable than the system at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Meanwhile, one of two bureaucrats with technical expertise -- not in atomic energy -- interviewed last week criticized the economics-first, safety-second mentality of atomic energy bureaucrats in a surprisingly harsh tone:  筆者は先週、霞が関の技術系官僚2人(いずれも専門は原子力以外)に取材したが、うち1人は、こちらが驚くほど強い調子で原子力官僚の経済優先・安全軽視を批判した。

"All they talk about is the external power source. It's been 50 days since they said that things would improve at Fukushima, too, once external power was restored, but nothing has changed. They're only looking at the facility itself. They lack the imagination and the focus on safety crucial in considering the possibility of nature destroying their systems.

Both bureaucrats hold high positions, and while their lamentation of the current administration's lack of leadership was not at all shocking, the fact that both called for the Hamaoka plant to be stopped was surprising indeed.

In the past 50 years, five magnitude-9 quakes have rattled the Pacific Rim, of which three have taken place in the past seven years. People try to quell concerns over the Hamaoka plant by pointing out the 10-meter sand dunes on the coast nearby and referring to talk of constructing a new 12-meter breakwater. But the Fukushima plant was overcome by waves between 10 and 20 meters high.

It is under such a state of affairs that Chubu Electric Power Co., which runs the Hamaoka plant, announced that it wanted to resume operations of the No. 3 reactor at Hamaoka in July.

This is likely a desperate attempt to avoid a possible energy shortage in the summer, which could lead to chaos. 真夏の電力不足による混乱回避へ布石を打ったのだろうが、

Regardless, if private corporations can't look at the big picture, there is no choice but for the government to step in.

To prove the nation's commitment to safety and renew its politics, and to wipe away international distrust of Japanese technology, first of all the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant must be stopped.

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)

毎日新聞 2011年5月2日 東京朝刊

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