--The Asahi Shimbun, April 5
EDITORIAL: Safety issues shouldn't be rushed to restart reactors

In an April 3 meeting of ministers to discuss whether to restart idled nuclear reactors, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda put off making a final decision on the issue.

Noda told the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) to work out by the next meeting provisional standards for safety measures based on what has been learned from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year.

The first-stage assessment of stress tests for offline reactors, purported to be carried out to gain baseline information for decisions on whether to bring the reactors back online, came with a strong sense of being a stopgap measure.

The government has apparently decided that stress tests for first-stage evaluations alone are not enough to greenlight resuming operations at suspended reactors. It seems that the Noda administration has been forced to change its original policy toward the issue in the face of strong public distrust of the safety of nuclear power plants.

We welcome a policy change to develop effective new safety standards that incorporate lessons gleaned from the nuclear disaster and to assess the safety of reactors more rigorously.

But the administration plans to hold the next meeting of related ministers shortly, possibly by the end of this week. The new safety standards will be cobbled together “in a day or two,” according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.

The rushed timetable makes it look as if the government believes all that is needed is to change the cover of an old book.

The new safety standards will not be started from scratch, of course. The work involves making the 30-item list of safety measures, compiled by NISA through its own investigations into the accident, more concrete and understandable. The government appears to think this work can be done in a short time.

With the No. 3 reactor at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear power plant, the nation’s last-running reactor, scheduled to go offline in early May for regular maintenance, Japan will soon enter an era of no nuclear power generation. The administration clearly wants to set the stage for restarting the No. 3 and the No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture before that happens.

The 30-item list includes some measures that require large-scale, time-consuming work. The government would be putting the cart before the horse if it selects only measures that can be implemented in a short time as the components of the more concrete and understandable safety standards.

The standards should not be designed in a way to guarantee that idled reactors will be restarted quickly.

There are certainly concerns about possible electricity shortages in the summer, but there is still time for careful estimation and planning.

The government should first act swiftly to make a detailed assessment of the outlook for the supply-demand situation. At the same time, it should buckle down to work out new nuclear safety measures.

While the task has to be assigned to NISA for the time being, it is a duty that was supposed to be carried out by the new nuclear regulatory agency the government had planned to launch in April. The ruling and opposition parties should start debating the bill to create the agency as soon as possible.

The government is reportedly considering the establishment of a permanent “buffer zone” around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant where residents will no longer be allowed to live. This is a fresh reminder of the grim fact that a severe accident at a nuclear power plant is likely to cause irreparable loss.

There can be no “absolute safety” when it comes to nuclear power generation in the first place. Restarting an idled reactor requires a very tough decision. The administration will lose the trust of the public forever if it tries to forge ahead with restarting reactors through procedures that are mere formalities.


The Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 6, 2012)
Edano must carefully explain need to restart Oi reactors
原発新安全基準 丁寧な説明で早期に再稼働を(4月5日付・読売社説)

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda instructed a meeting of ministers related to nuclear power safety to draw up a new set of safety criteria for the restart of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which is operated by Kansai Electric Power Co.

Noda gave the instruction because Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa and others demanded the central government create new guidelines on nuclear plant safety based on lessons learned from the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. as a condition for agreeing to the restart of the idle reactors.

To reactivate suspended reactors, it is essential that the prefecture and municipalities hosting them understand their safety. The central government should compile the new safety guidelines as soon as possible and quickly start to convince them to agree with the restart.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government has been postponing the restart of suspended reactors by implementing additional procedures not called for by law, such as the introduction of stress tests and examinations by the Nuclear Safety Commission.

As a result of its makeshift measures, only one reactor now remains operating among the 54 around the country. But its operations will be also stopped in early May.

If nothing is done, Japan will experience a serious electricity shortage this summer, inflicting heavy damage on its already sagging economy.


New safety guidelines

The prime minister and related ministers should decide on resumption of reactor operations at the Oi plant quickly, without any further waste of time.

The new guidelines are said to give structure and substance to the contents of a 30-item list of safety measures already drawn up by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

We expect the new guidelines to illustrate in an easy-to-understand manner measures to avoid a serious crisis like the one that developed at the Fukushima nuclear plant by preventing a complete loss of the plant's operating power even if the plant is hit by a massive earthquake and colossal tsunami.

To obtain the approval of local governments for restarting the reactors, the government must take responsibility for confirming the safety of nuclear power plants. Toward that goal, it is also essential to foster a trusting relationship between ministers related to nuclear safety and concerned local governments.


Edano's remarks indiscreet

In that light, it is a problem that an indiscreet remark by Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano has increased a sense of distrust among concerned local governments.

"At present, I'm also against the restart [of the idle reactors at the Oi plant]," Edano said at the House of Councillors Budget Committee on Monday.

Also, when asked to define which local authorities are concerned with the Oi plant, he told the committee that it would be local authorities "all over Japan."

The resumed operation of the Oi plant's reactors also requires consent from the governors of Shiga and Kyoto prefectures, which neighbor Fukui Prefecture, he added.

It was very careless of Edano to make a thoughtless series of gaffes that might toughen requirements for the restart of the idle reactors by himself. We suspect he may not be truly aware of his responsibility as a minister in charge of securing a stable power supply.

He has caused misunderstanding and confusion among the local governments hosting the Oi nuclear plant and others nearby. We fully understand why his remarks were severely criticized.

Edano corrected part of his remarks, but his true intentions have not necessarily been clarified. If the situation remains unresolved, it might make the leaders of the prefecture and municipalities hosting the plant hesitate to agree to the resumption of reactor operations.

Edano must retract his remarks and carefully explain his intentions in detail.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 5, 2012)
(2012年4月5日01時52分 読売新聞)

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