Japan’s point man on nuclear energy visited regional officials this weekend to say reactors are safe to operate, less than three weeks before the nation’s sole nuclear plant still running closes for maintenance.
Industry Minister Yukio Edano doesn’t need local approval to restart two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Ohi plant, about 95 kilometers (59 miles) northeast of Osaka. With Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and two other Cabinet officials he can approve operation of the plant.
Japan typically seeks local consent to restart reactors after maintenance or accidents. Given the wide areas affected by the Fukushima disaster, the government will seek approval for Ohi in Fukui and neighboring Shiga and Kyoto prefectures, Edano said on April 2.
Polls suggest Edano, who steered Japan through the early days of last year’s Fukushima disaster, has already won his argument in Fukui prefecture, where the Ohi complex provides jobs and livelihoods as well as power for the nation’s second-biggest metropolitan area.
The plant would be the first restarted since Japan adopted new safety tests, and winning over local authorities may help the government resume operation of more of Japan’s 54 reactors before power demand peaks in summer months.
Edano met Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa, prefectural officials and the mayor of Ohi town on April 14 to explain the government’s view on the issue and seek cooperation in restarting the reactors. Nishikawa said he would wait to respond to the minister’s request, the Mainichi newspaper said.
Response in Shiga may be less welcoming. Fukui and Ohi “would approve the restart because they have carrots,” Governor Yukiko Kada said in an April 11 interview, referring to government subsidies and the plant’s payroll. “We don’t have the carrots and get only the whips.”
Kansai Electric serves the Kansai area of western Japan that covers an area the size of Belgium, has an economy worth $1 trillion -- about the size of Mexico’s -- and is home to the cities of Osaka and Kyoto as well as factories of Sharp Corp. and Panasonic Corp.
The utility’s electricity output without nuclear power may be 18.4 percent short of peak demand this summer if Japan is hit by a heat wave similar to the one in 2010, the government said in a statement distributed to reporters yesterday, revising its April 9 forecast of 19.6 percent.