A few days ago, the four reactors that
were badly damaged at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant were
officially decommissioned. That makes the official nuclear reactor
count in Japan 50, down from 54. Out of those 50 reactors, only one
is currently in operation. A big, ongoing controversy is the issue of
restarting some of the reactors that were halted after a checkup.
The Japanese government is now clearly
pushing for restarting nuclear reactors to secure enough power for
the country. The very two reactors in question now are in the KEPCO
territory, which includes the big cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and
Nara. The government performed stress tests on those reactors and
abruptly concluded them safe. They did it by creating a safety
checklist for the nuclear reactors in a few days. Then they held a
meeting to conclude that the reactors were safe because they
satisfied all the items in the list.
This did not convince the local people.
It appeared that the government had already decided to restart the
reactors no matter what and held a meeting to make it official. The
surrounding communities and local governors are very much against
this decision, and the government has yet to move this matter to the
next stage. The Fukui prefecture (similar to a state in the US) is a
small and not very populous one, and its industries and employment
opportunities are limited. With the nuclear industry in their
prefecture, they received a large sum of money in grants from the
government, and employment opportunities opened up. They need workers
at the reactors, and the surrounding restaurants and inns benefit
from the people pouring into their community. The local people are in
a dilemma. They are worried and afraid of potential disasters. But
with the reactors halted, the local economy is also halted, and they
cannot sustain their lives as before.
The Asahi Shimbun, one of the leading
newspapers, published a nationwide survey of the government decision
to restart the reactors. Only 28% supported the restart, while 55%
opposed it. As for whether people believed the government’s
assurance of safety, only 17% trust the government assurance, while
70% do not. Also, only 18% believe the government's power-shortage
data, while 66% do not. As for whose consent is necessary for the
restart, 88% answered that the local community needs to approve it,
while 8% said the government could decide by itself. Finally, people
who were surveyed felt that the government was not moving away from
using nuclear reactors (61% vs. 19%).
The strong argument from the government
is that, without nuclear energy, Japan will not have enough power.
But the majority of people do not believe that. It appears this
standoff will continue into summer, which requires the most power
during the year. With the current administration's approval rate at
25% and still sinking, a general election may take place sometime
soon. The discussion about energy policy and power supply may be
delayed substantially. It is too late to take action when power
cannot be supplied adequately when needed.