In a move that’s sure to be damaging to his popularity with the public, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stated on Saturday that he approved of the Oi nuclear power plant’s restart. Despite large protests in Tokyo, Noda called for the Japan’s return to nuclear power for the first time since the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi facility. After both the mayor of Oi, Fukui Prefecture and a team of scientists vouching for the plant’s safety, two of the reactors will begin to be activated by the plant’s operating utility company, Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO).
Minister of Trade Yukio Edano was also present at the news conference, where he commented that it’s not possible to get a perfect score when it comes to taking steps for disaster prevention, but the safety issues that were recognized in the Fukushima accident have all been addressed at the Oi facility. He also stated that while Japan was returning to the use of nuclear power for the first time since May 5th, when the last of the nation’s reactors were shut down, the central government still has plans to reduce the country’s dependence on nuclear energy over the medium to long-term.
This second statement seems a bit harder to swallow, as many are predicting this is only the first in a series of reactor restarts. The central claim that Prime Minister Noda used to argue for the activation of Oi was that it was needed to prevent power shortages as high as 15% in the western Kansai region over the heavy energy-demanding summer months, but with it taking this long to achieve the first restart, and the understanding that the two reactors won’t be running at full output until almost August, it’s unlikely the government will return the nuclear power plant to suspension once the summer months are over.
Within days, Prime Minister Noda seems to have gotten the two things he’s been working the hardest for in the last few months, as not only has the order for the nuclear restart been given, but his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the opposing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) finally came to an agreement on raising Japan’s sales tax to 10% by 2015. When announcing his decision last week that he intended to restart the reactors, he claimed that it was necessary for Japan’s livelihood and the survival of its economy. But at the protests in Tokyo on Friday, nearly 10,000 demonstrators shouted that the lives of the people were more important than the cost of electricity for businesses and the economy. Even the environmental group Greenpeace issued a statement that said the government is putting the health of Japan’s citizens, environment, and economy in great jeopardy as it clearly ignores public disapproval and safety concerns in a dangerous, hurried return to the use of nuclear power.