Cabinet in-fighting over reactor stress tests deepens summer power woes

07/08/2011
By

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda

TOKYO (majirox news) — Cabinet in-fighting has heightened amid Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s sudden order to conduct stress tests on all Japan’s nuclear plants, threatening to further deepen the country’s summer power shortage crisis.

Kan has made resumption of operations at halted nuclear plants conditional upon them passing the stress tests.

These are examinations to test whether the reactors would be capable of withstanding unusually dangerous activities similar to the huge earthquake that rocked northern Japan on March 11 and the tsunami that followed. These natural disasters were behind the damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that led to meltdowns in three reactors

“The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has also proposed stress tests and they’re being carried out in Europe. We’ve got to have a standard acceptable for citizens,” the prime minister told a July 7 House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting.

However, Kan’s Cabinet is divided over the decision. Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda favors resumption of operations at some plants that haven’t undergone stress tests and can count on the support of local governments where the plants are located, who are also loathe to see them remain idle.

“Kan did not consult his ministers about the stress tests and they are upset “ said Pema Gyalpo, member of the People’s New Party and professor at Toin University in Yokohama. “Kaieda will probably resign over it, which shows his resistance to Kan. This will be the fifth minister to resign in Kan’s Cabinet.”

Japan is already facing the threat of power shortages over the peak summer months and the stalemate threatens to compound the problem by delaying smooth electricity supply sufficient to meet demand.

Major power consumers are obliged to reduce electricity consumption by 15% year-on-year over the peak period or face fines of up to 1 million yen (about $12,000), while households and smaller businesses are being requested to cut usage to the same degree to avert power shortages.

Meanwhile, initially Kan gave Kaieda the authority to get the approval from the local governments to resume operations of some reactors. Then, on Monday, Kaieda gave the go ahead to Mayor Hideo Kishimoto to restart Genkai nuclear power plant, located at the town of Genkai in Saga Prefecture. Kishimoto was the first mayor since the nuclear crisis to permit the restart of a nuclear plant.

“The mayor says Kaieda made a fool of him,” Gyalpo says. “Kishimoto has now retracted his controversial decision to approve the restarting of two reactors at the plant.”

Kishimoto said, “Anger welled up in my heart after hearing Prime Minister Kan say that resumption will be based on the stress tests. It sounded like my decision was a waste. I would like to declare the withdrawal at the (town) assembly.”

Kan’s ordering stress tests of nuclear power plants came out of nowhere, according to Gyalpo. He added that Kan was not in favor of nuclear power, but recently had to support it because the country needs the power for the time being.

“Kan is confused,” Gyalpo said. “He wants to show leadership and that he’s in command. But it’s backfiring and is causing more public distrust of the central government and the nuclear regulatory management.”

Tomohiko Taniguchi, a guest professor at Keio University in Tokyo and an analyst of Japanese politics, agrees.

“I also believe it is another way for Kan to extend his life as prime minister,” he said. “Kan can say, ‘I have to remain in office to make sure the citizens will have a safe life. This can only be accomplished after the stress tests, which I ordered.’”

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2 Responses to Cabinet in-fighting over reactor stress tests deepens summer power woes

  1. Karl Hoessel on 07/09/2011 at 12:29 pm

    I would like to begin with the second sentence of the article: “Kan has made resumption of operations at halted nuclear plants conditional upon them passing the stress tests.” That is admirable and sensible order, and shows courage on the part of Mr.Kan, especially given the call by the IAEA to do this worldwide!
    The article says (is this a quote from Mr. Kishimoto, or Mr, Galpo or Mr.Kaieda?) “Kan’s ordering stress tests of nuclear power plants came out of nowhere.” ‘Nowhere?’ Where is that? It might be the House of Representative, given the childish rankling that they seem to forever engage in at the expense of making timely decisions for the well being of the nation, while the folks in Tohoku swelter in the midst of their ruble, and while the TEPCO or Kyushu Denryoku people wonder how they can get their machines going again.
    The fact that Mr. Kaieda came down to Saga and told the mayor of Genkai to restart the reactor at Genkai and that the Government would guarantee the security of the operation, is a Mt Fuji-level height of arrogance, especially in the ‘view’ of the billowing radiation emanating from the devastated Fukushima furnace. I’m sure Mr. Kaieda is a nice man, but where does he get this hubris from? We saw him on TV, the entire nation did, (even perhaps the members of the Diet did!) speak those empty promises to the mayor, who, of course wants the machines working again. Why should Mr. Kishimoto fulminate about this inconvenient stress test which may, if properly carried out, expose a weakness in the prevention procedures that ALL nuclear power installations ought to be ‘strike force readiness on,’ in the event of a Fukushima-like disaster, and which would bring death and misery to not only Saga, but to Nagasaki, Fukuoka, probably Kumamoto and certainly the entire Ariake Sea. Just what decision did Mr. Kishimoto make that he feels so angered over? Perhaps his own? Certainly not Mr. Kan’s, who has shown more strength here in the face of relentless bashing from the right and the left, and the inane bickering of the elected officials. Where, oh where, are the men who will stand up and say straight what the issue really is?
    The article says that “These are examinations to test whether the reactors would be capable of withstanding unusually dangerous activities similar to the huge earthquake that rocked northern Japan on March 11 and the tsunami that followed.” Ought it not be mentioned that, were greater more stringent, precautionary measures fully in place and operative at Fukushima, the damage would have been significantly less? Does It not make sense then to establish the most stringent and ‘kibishii’ stress tests possible for all of the remaining Nuclear plants in this country? And what if Genkai fails? Will the Government pare back on the requirements, so as not to ‘trouble’ the citizens of Saga ken? Are not the people of Saga, or anywhere else for that matter, sufficiently troubled by the catastrophic implications of Fukushima?
    I pray for Mr. Kan, and the cabinet and whoever might be left standing with some integrity, and for the members of the Diet; Lord God, give them the wisdom they need to exercise their responsibilities as magistrate of this nation, and for the leadership of Saga, the Governor, that he stand firm in what he knows to be good and safe for the people, and for the mayor, that he be sensitive to the wisdom that the citizen have and not be swayed by any motive that compromises the truth.

  2. Casper on 07/13/2011 at 12:39 pm

    Bravo, well said Karl!

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