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.’”