Almost a month after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda spoke to the nation, explaining that Japan could not maintain living standards without restarting nuclear reactors, thousands gather in protest outside his office. Beginning Sunday, July 1, 2012, the first of Japan’s 50 commercial nuclear reactors will be reengaged and begin providing power to much of western Japan by 4 July. Osaka is among the major cities that will receive power from the Number 3 Reactor at the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant.
Part of the Kansai Electric Power Company, or KEPCO, the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant resides in Fukui Prefecture on the west coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu. Reactor Number 3 will be restarted on Sunday, 1 July, with Reactor Number 4 set for restart on 24 July. All of Japan’s 50 commercial nuclear reactors were shut down by 5 May for routine maintenance and safety checks. The decision to restart the two (of four) Ohi Reactors was not made lightly. After the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster following a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, protests and demonstrations were inevitable.
People gathered Friday around the Prime Minister’s office. Police cordoned off the streets for safety. Although the crowd was noisy, it was a non-violent demonstration involving a diverse crowd, including women and children, as well as men in suits coming straight from work. ABC News reported the numbers over 10,000 while a NY Times report gave numbers of protesters ranging from 17,000, according to local police, between 20,000 and 45,000, according to local news, up to 150,000 as reported by the organizers themselves. Japanese news reported that this was one of the largest demonstrations in Tokyo since the 1960s, according to the NY Times report.
A report from NPR discussed a Pew Research Center poll administered this month in which 70-percent of Japanese polled felt Japan needs to wean off nuclear power; roughly twice those who responded to a poll last year. Another survey administered by Sankei-Fuji News, however, found that more than half those polled were in favor of nuclear reactor restarting in the event of an energy shortage with the stipulation that safety would be a top priority.
Reuters reported on the protests and nuclear reactor restart included comments from two university professors. Professor of seismology at Kobe University, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, and professor of tectonic geomorphology at Toyo University, Mitsuhisa Watanabe, referred to the reactor restart as unsafe. Professor Ishibashi reported that safety standards and reactor stress tests have not improved, while Professor Watanabe expressed concern over the questionable expertise and neutrality of the government’s expert advisers.
As for the energy companies, TEPCO shareholders held a meeting Friday June 29, 2012, to vote on a government payout to nationalize the company. After the incident with the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Plant in northeastern Japan, TEPCO has faced billions of dollars in claims filed by residents and businesses, with an estimated cost of clean-up and compensation at $1.25 billion USD (100-billion YEN). While the shareholders voted to accept approximately $12.6 billion USD from the government, protestors gathered to urge the TEPCO shareholders to steer Japan away from nuclear power.
As reported by NPR, Hiroshi Takahashi, an energy expert and government adviser, the Japanese government does not have an “exit plan” at the moment. He believes the government will create a manageable plan to cut back on nuclear power over the next couple of decades with a date set to review the possibility of ceasing nuclear power usage. This would give the government more time to work on a plan.
NHK News – Nuclear Reactor Restart (English)
NHK News – Protests (English)
Ohi Nuclear Power Plant (Japanese Only)