Noda promises reactor restarts

13 September 2011

Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda has promised that operations will restart at nuclear power plants currently undergoing safety inspections, but said the country must aim to reduce its reliance on nuclear in the longer term.

In his first policy speech at the opening of the 178th Diet, Noda focused on recovery and reconstruction activities after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. He highlighted bringing the nuclear accident at the Fukushima power plant to a conclusion as a national challenge, and promised steps to clean up dispersed radioactive materials and to provide 'failsafe' measures to manage the health of residents in the vicinity of the plant, with priority given to children and pregnant women.

Frame for Fukushima 1 cover (Tepco)

Fukushima 1 takes cover

  

The steel frame of a cover being built over the Fukushima unit 1 reactor has been completed and coverings are being installed. The frame is 54m high, 47m wide and 42m long, and will support wall and roof panels and other equipment. Tepco plans to complete construction of the cover around mid-October. It will form a seal around the damaged building, wrecked by a hydrogen explosion on 12 March, preventing any potential emissions of radioactive material while protecting the building from the weather.

The knock-on effects of the nuclear accident on Japan's electricity balance and the implications for the economy were highlighted as an area of concern by Noda, who described the stable provision of electricity as "the very 'blood' of our economy and society". The country's Basic Energy Policy, which covers the period to 2030, will be revised from scratch, and a new strategy and plan will be available around the middle of 2012.

Japan will not be turning its back on nuclear, although in the mid- to long-term the country must aim to reduce its reliance on the power source that prior to the events of March provided some 30% of its electricity, Noda said. At the same time, however, he promised that operations would restart at Japanese nuclear power stations that were shut down for regular safety inspections at the time of the Fukushima accident. Some 35 of Japan's 54 nuclear units have been affected, being required to remain off line until given permission to restart. Any units subsequently entering such outages will also be required to remain off line until specifically permitted to restart. A program of two-stage stress tests is now being implemented at all of Japan's nuclear power plants, but reactors will be able to restart after completion of the first stage.

Noda also stated again his plans for the restructuring of Japanese nuclear regulation, with the establishment of a new Nuclear Security and Safety Agency. The new agency will be affiliated to Japan's environment ministry, unlike the current regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Ageny (NISA) which comes under the auspices of the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). NISA's degree of regulatory independence has been questioned as METI's remit also includes responsibility for Japanese energy policy.

Noda's stance is in contrast with former prime minister Naoto Kan, who in June publicly expressed his belief that Japan should aim for a future without nuclear power.

Edano speaks out

Prime Minister Noda's words were echoed by newly appointed trade and industry minister Yukio Edano in his inaugural press conference in his new role. According to Reuters, Edano said that he expected idled reactors to restart after safety is confirmed and local approval is granted, but did not elaborate on when that might be. He underlined to journalists that determining the safety of reactors was not a political decision.

Former chief cabinet secretary Edano was appointed to head METI when previous incumbent Yoshio Hachiro resigned after making insensitive comments and jokes to reporters while visiting the area affected by the nuclear accident. Noda referred to the Hachiro incident as "highly regrettable" in his speech to the Diet, and reiterated the Japanese cabinet's pledges to redouble efforts to provide assistance for victims of the disaster as well as to bring the accident to a conclusion.

 

Researched and written

by World Nuclear News

 

Filed under: This article is not categorised