Public Outrage as Japan Officials Push Nuclear Restart

The Oi nuclear plant in the Fukui Prefecture (Kuni Takahashi/ The New York Times)

Public Outrage as Japan Officials Push Nuclear Restart

On Thursday, despite popular opposition, Japanese leaders approved a nuclear power restart for two reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in the Fukui Prefecture. Critics blame an intense corporate lobbying campaign and a strong push from the central government for the move.

Governors across several Japanese prefectures agreed to a "limited" restart of the reactors in Kansai -- causing alarm and outrage for many across the country.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda must now approve the step, but has said he thinks the restart is 'necessary'.

However, Noda faces opposition within his own party. A petition circulated through Japanese parliament read: "It's clear, through a variety of public opinion surveys, that Japanese people say they will persevere this summer through electricity conservation measures. The current situation regarding the restart is one of insufficient understanding among Japanese as a whole and insufficient agreement within our party."

Up to 1,000 Japanese anti-nuclear protesters gathered outside the prime minister's office on Friday, beating drums and chanting slogans against the likely restart.

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Japan Times: Kansai chiefs accept 'limited' reactor restart

Kansai leaders, including vocal critic Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, reversed weeks of opposition Thursday to restarting two of the reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, caving to intense corporate lobbying and central government pressure and removing one of the last major political obstacles to bringing the units back online.

The agreement of the Union of Kansai Governments, which includes seven prefectures and two mayors, to a "limited" restart of the reactors created confusion and concern across the region.

Critics and Hashimoto allies noted the definition of limited was left undefined and could mean the reactors will be kept running for weeks, months or years. [...]

Asked whether the central government was thinking of shutting down the Oi reactors after the summer peak period, in line with the Kansai leaders' demands, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura dodged the question Thursday, saying environment and nuclear minister Goshi Hosono would answer it. [...]

The decision by the Union of Kansai Governments to allow a restart came after weeks of intense pressure by Kepco and the Kansai Economic Federation, whose head, Shosuke Mori, is also chairman of the utility.

Public opinion polls in early May showed most Kansai residents opposed the restart, and businesses surveys indicated service firms and small and medium-size companies could save sufficient amounts of electricity.

But after a conclusion in mid-May by Kepco and the central government that the region faced an electricity shortage of 15 percent during the peak summer period, major manufacturers warned of economic damage to the region and the government discussed rolling blackouts during the peak demand period. [...]

As the public backlash against the decision grew louder Thursday afternoon, some Kansai leaders began shifting their positions.

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Reuters: Japanese protest over planned restart of nuclear reactors

Hundreds of Japanese anti-nuclear protesters gathered outside the prime minister's office on Friday, beating drums and chanting slogans against the planned restart of reactors a year after the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

"We oppose restarts," the crowd of about 1,000, which stretched for around 200 meters down the block, shouted in the peaceful demonstration.

Public mistrust of nuclear power has grown since the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

All of Japan's nuclear power plants, which once supplied about 30 percent of the country's energy needs, have been taken off line, leaving Japan vulnerable to power outages during the summer.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said on Wednesday said that it is necessary to restart idled reactors whose safety has been confirmed and that the central government is winning the understanding of local authorities.

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