Fukushima Fallout

Weekly updates by
Keito Hirabayashi

The ‘Restart’ Battle: Will Japan’s nuclear power plants, even the failed FBR Monju, be revived or will people power prevail?

Japan’s electricity supply has been nuclear free for 25 days, ever since the last of its 50 reactors went offline on May 5th, but the pressure is mounting to restart 2 reactors in Fukui Prefecture, which supply the Kansai region, including the city of Osaka. The President of Kansai Electric (KEPCO), the company that operates the Ohi reactors in Fukui, has stated that it will take 6 weeks to get the reactors back to full capacity, so KEPCO will already be undersupplied on July 2, when the summer period starts

Monju has a long history of major accidents and 'restarts.' This photo is from May 6 2010, the last time Monju was 'restarted' after a sodium leak and fire closed it for 14 years

and the threat of power blackouts will only get worse the longer local governments refuse to allow the reactors to restart. He has called on the national government to take ‘decisive steps’ to ensure that Ohi is operational as soon as possible. The national government, unable, despite it all, to ignore the power corporations, is also making sympathetic noises, with the Chair of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Council, Maehara Seiji talking about ‘time limits’ and now Prime Minister Noda has chimed in, promising that a ‘decision will be made soon.’ A suggestion by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto, ostensibly one of the nuclear industry’s fiercest critics, that Ohi be switched on ‘for a limited time,’ was also backed by the Wakayama Governor. The politicians are moving in for the kill despite large public protests, more of which are planned on June 1st, both in Osaka and Tokyo. This is a hugely important struggle as, if Japan can actually show that it can get through the summer with zero nuclear power, the nuclear establishment won’t have a solid leg left to stand on.

Another plan to restart has also been revealed recently although without nearly so much fanfare or discussion. The Fukui Shinbun (May 26) reported that it was planned to revive Monju, the problem-plagued Fast Breeder Reactor, also situated in Fukui, by mid-June. This is particularly alarming considering that as recently as November last year, the budget for the test-runs leading up to this revival was under review and the Nuclear Disaster Minister Hosono Goshi went as far as to say that scrapping Monju is an option that will be given serious thought. Not to mention the new seismic research which shows that Monju may also be affected by the Urasoko Faultline. The Editorial in the Tokyo Shinbunthe next day (May 27) gave some indication of how this situation arose—how Monju came from scrap-heap consideration back to life as if nothing had happened. Apparently a ‘study group’ (sounds completely harmless, but in Japan, this is often the place where everything gets decided) was formed by the Nuclear Power Committee, which is under the Department of Cabinet. The subject of this ‘study group’ is the nuclear fuel cycle and its members are from the 10 electric power corporations,

Protests against the restart of Ohi reactors in Fukui Prefecture

Japan Atomic Energy Agency—the organization which manages Monju—and also includes bureaucrats from various Ministries, in other words, people who are all very much in favor of maintaining Monju. Tokyo Shinbun is scathing in its criticism of this type of organization, which is separate from the public Nuclear Power Committee and meets behind closed doors but still manages to have vast influence over reports that are produced by the Committee. Obviously the ‘Nuclear Village’ is resorting to its old tricks in order to maintain its power—what else could it do?—but, ironically, this is exactly what feeds the massive public distrust and anger which has been exploding all over Japan and which has so far prevented any restarts of nuclear power plants. Even though the victors of this particular battle will likely soon emerge, the war is far from over, and we can only hope that the ‘dirty tricks’ which the nuclear village is somehow surviving on become more and more exposed and less and less tolerated.