August 14, 2022

Japan Plans Safety Assessments of Nuclear Plants

TOKYO — Japan will conduct new safety assessments of its nuclear plants, the nation’s top energy official said Wednesday, in a move that could delay the restarting of the nation’s idled nuclear reactors by weeks or months.

The official, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda, said the so-called stress tests would measure the plants’ ability to withstand larger-than-expected earthquakes and tsunamis, like those that disabled the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March.

He said the analyses, modeled on those conducted by the European Union on its plants, were intended to give “a sense of assurance” to local residents. While Japanese officials have disclosed few details of the tests, local newspaper reports speculated that they could take months.

The issue of local acceptance has come to the forefront as Tokyo tries to persuade regional leaders to allow the restart of dozens of reactors that were originally idled for regular maintenance but have not been turned on since the March disaster.

On Wednesday, the governor of southern Saga Prefecture, who will be the first to make the decision, said he would await the results of the new assessments before deciding whether to allow the Genkai nuclear plant’s two reactors to be restarted.

Thirty-five of Japan’s 54 reactors are offline, some for earthquake-related damage but most for routine repairs. Under Japanese law, reactors must shut down for repairs every 13 months.

Experts warn that if no reactors are turned back on, every reactor in Japan will be idle by April, possibly leading to power shortages.

However, the Fukushima accident has created a popular backlash against nuclear power. As a result, Tokyo faces an uphill battle to persuade regional leaders to give the necessary approval to restart their local reactors.

The Saga governor, Yasushi Furukawa, has said he wants to meet with Prime Minister Naoto Kan to hear an explanation about the nation’s energy policy and why the reactors must be restarted. In Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Kan refused to say whether he would meet with Mr. Furukawa.

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