TOKYO, June 16 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced Saturday that the two idled nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture would resume operations as the nation faces a power shortfall as summer rapidly approaches.
Having received notification from Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa that he had won local consent from the prefecture earlier in the day, the Japanese leader approved the restart of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co.
The decision was made at the prime minister's office earlier on Saturday against a backdrop of thousands anti-nuclear protesters whose calls to eradicate atomic energy and focus solely on renewable energy sources are becoming ever-more vociferous.
However, Noda, despite public fears over the safety of Japan's nuclear energy industry since a massive earthquake triggered a tsunami powerful enough to knock out the critical cooling functions at a nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture last March, sparking one of the world's worst ever nuclear disasters, said he was determined to win back the public's trust.
"Having won local consent, reactivating the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant is now the government's final decision," said the Japanese premier. "We are determined to make further efforts to restore people's trust in nuclear policy and safety regulations," Noda said.
Trade Minister Yukio Edano, for his part, said that while disaster prevention can never be an exact science, sizable steps towards enhancing safety at the Oi plant had been taken, which will potentially pave the way for Japan 's other nuclear plants to also be brought back online.
"There is no such thing as a perfect score when it comes to disaster prevention steps," Edano told a news conference following the announcement.
"But, based on what we learned from the Fukushima accident, those measures that need to be taken urgently have been addressed, and the level of safety has been considerably enhanced (at the Oi plant)," he said.
Edano went on to say, however, that the government's overall policy to lessen its dependence on nuclear energy had remained unchanged.
All of Japan's 50 commercial nuclear reactors that were once responsible for generating 30 percent of the nation's power, have been offline since May 6 for regular checkups and safety inspections.
Therefore firing up the two reactors at the Oi plant is expected to give the Kansai region a much-needed boost as, according to the utility, its Nos. 3 and 4 reactors have the capacity to generate the most amount of electricity out of all its reactors and technical engineers believe that the restart will mean Kansai's service area in western Japan, including its business hub Osaka, will be kept above the break-even point this summer, as consumption rises drastically.
Despite the restarting of the reactors, power in the Kansai service area is expected to remain tight for the time being as it will take the two reactors some six weeks until they're both producing power at their optimum levels, experts said.
Anti-nuclear activists have collected almost 8.0 million signatures on a petition calling for the end of atomic power in Japan and some of those opposing the move to bring all Japan's idled reactors back online, have been quick to point out that while Kansai Electric Power Co.'s new post-inspection safety plans for the two reactors in question do address some fundamental measures to ensure that its primary and defensive cooling functions would remain operable, even if the plant was hit by an earthquake-triggered tsunami the size and ferocity of that which knocked out the cooling functions at the Fukushima plant, causing its reactors to meltdown, more than 30 percent of the plant's necessary upgrades have yet to be completed.
"Fully upgrading the nuclear plants that have been taken offline to new domestic and international standards will take time. So it's no wonder people are nervous about these reactors being fired up again so soon after such a huge nuclear disaster," Sean Toczko, an expert from Japan's Marine Science & Technology Institute told Xinhua recently. "It could take until 2015 or longer until technologies to lessen radiation leaks in the event of an accident are in place, next- generation anti-tsunami defenses are operational and on-site anti- radiation crisis centers are workable. From this point of view, the Oi plant is far from ready to handle a Fukushima-type crisis," he said.
Local experts and media reports believe that the nuclear reactors most likely to be restarted next will include the No. 3 unit of Shikoku Electric Power Co.'s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, which has already passed its first round of safety checks.
The Nos. 1 and 2 units of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.'s Tomari plant in Hokkaido are also looking likely to be fired up soon, being that the mercury plunges in northern Japan meaning the use of far more heating appliances. At this stage however, the government is remaining somewhat guarded as to the future restarting of the idled plants and some pundits believe that providing nothing goes wrong with the Oi startups the other plants will be brought back online incrementally.