Governors nix reopening nuke reactors pending full disclosure

04/27/2011
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Tokyo (majirox news) – It will be difficult to reactivate the reactors at nuclear power plants throughout Japan that are currently under maintenance and not operating, according to nine Japanese prefectural governors who met privately in Tokyo April 26.

The governors requested that Japan’’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, METI, disclose a detailed report on the accident at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant, which has been emitting radioactive material since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The prefectures included Saga, Kagoshima and Shizuoka.

They presented their requests to METI, demanding to know how the accident happened and how the Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO), the Daiichi plant owner and operator, could prevent it from occurring in the future. Additionally, they said that TEPCO and the government, particularly the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, did not disclose all relevant information about the crisis at the crippled plant.

Kaname Tajima, vice minister of METI, said the government would launch an investigation.

“It might take a while to define the reasons why the accident happened,” Tajima told reporters. “However, we have to reinforce the safety issues through the safety agencies and electricity companies.”

Governor Fukukawa of Saga prefecture said, “If they can’t satisfy the people who lived around Fukushima Daiichi plant then it will be very difficult for us to reactivate the reactors in other nuclear plants.”

According to Tomohiko Taniguchi, a former spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, now an academic at Keio University in Tokyo, the governors, who are charged with promoting residents’ well-being, blame the government for having failed many times to disclose the fullest amount of information on what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

“The regional utilities will have to stop their reactors in any case for regular checks,” said Taniguchi. “Whenever it happens one must anticipate that the governors of the host prefectures will unlikely let go of the resumption of the reactors so easily, effectively resulting in a chain of halting the reactors. One by one, reactors, which are being halted, will end up generating far less electricity, with dire consequences to the nation’’s economic activities.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naotoa Kan told Japan’’s lower house budget committee Tuesday that he would set up a commission in the near future to look into the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

“The group will bring together people of various viewpoints,” Kan said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said at a news conference that he anticipates the investigation to focus on TEPCO as well as the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and, “in a broad sense the Nuclear Safety Commission,” the two regulatory bodies.

Shunsuke Kondo, the head of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a Cabinet Office organization that advances nuclear power policy, said he would ask Kan to move quickly to begin the investigation into the cause of the Fukushima accident. The findings will be used to strengthen earthquake and tsunami precautions and review plant safety regulations.

“We need to find out right away whether this accident stemmed from problems at Fukushima alone,”Kondo said.

TEPCO maintains that its Fukushima Daiichi plant was designed to withstand the biggest tsunami recorded for the last century. Historian said that in the 17th and 18th centuries, Japan’’s east coast was awash with tsunamis as big as the one that occurred on March 11, not just once but two or three times. The recent Black Swan event (an unpredictable event) was bigger than TEPCO expected.

Some critics are saying that Kan should have taken charge immediately after the crisis. He should have followed the law, that is, the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness, which empowers the prime minister to become commander-in-chief, pulling together everyone, including the Police Agency, Fire Department, Self-Defense Forces, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the utility company, to work together in solving the crisis.

He failed to do so, according to his critics. No prime minister can say he did not know this law. This law was enacted to prepare the government for the worst possible nuclear accident by placing all available power and resources in the hands of the prime minister. Kan took part in a regular drill last year. He maintains that he was unaware that the drill was for a nuclear crisis. He says he thought it was for a fire evacuation.

Prime Minister Kan blames TEPCO. But according to the law, he can blame no one because it is he who holds the supreme responsibility.

The law went into effect in 1999, motivated by a 1998 accident at the Tokai nuclear power plant in Ibaraki prefecture, killing two workers who were exposed to high doses of radiation. The then LDP-led government took it seriously, as it was extremely difficult for government officials to gather information and take the necessary actions in the swiftest possible manner.

With Kan’s saying he was unaware of the law, the nation has never had a supreme commander-in-chief. Critics say what has gone on instead was confusion as to who is to take charge and a game of finger pointing.

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