On Sunday May 6, Japan became, for the time being, a nuclear free country. For the first time in 42 years no electricity was produced by splitting atoms. Thousands celebrated this fact in the streets of Japanese cities. The pressure on local authorities to allow restart of reactors increases, even more after Prime minister Noda gave preliminary allowance to restart Ohi 3 and 4.
A group of current and former mayors pushing for a nuclear-free Japan held its inaugural meeting April 28 in Tokyo. At the meeting, the group adopted a resolution urging the central government to incorporate the goal of completely eliminating nuclear power in its new basic energy plan, to be compiled this summer. The roughly 70 members of the group either served as mayors, or are currently in office, in 35 of the nation's 47 prefectures.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Noda is rushing to restart nuclear reactors for the first time since March 11, last year. But he needs local government consent to move forward with any decision to restart;
as the government will have to do for each of the other 48 reactors across the country should it seek to bring them back online.
Fukui’s local leaders have valiantly resisted efforts to restart the 2 reactors at the Ohi plant amidst lingering doubts on whether these reactors can withstand a Fukushima-like disaster. But they’re under incredible pressure from Noda and the power industry to cave.
On April 13, industry minister Yukio Edano, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and two other ministers agreed that Ohi reactors 3 and 4 are safe enough to restart. A day later he traveled to the prefecture to drum up public support for the governor. After a meeting with Fukui local leaders, Edano told reporters he will press ahead with the reactivation plan and that he intends to explain the government's decision in Kyoto and Shiga prefectures to win their approval as soon as possible.
PM Noda is expected to make a final decision before July on whether to authorize the restart of Ohi 3 and 4.
Meanwhile, future looks even more dim for the nuclear industry because of a very likely future lack of 'human resources'. In Japan the number of students enrolled as nuclear energy majors at seven universities has fallen by 16 percent this year, a Kyodo News announced on April 16. Among universities offering undergraduate and graduate programs in the nuclear sciences, only 223 students had enrolled for the 2012 academic year, compared with 264 last year.
Fukui University of Technology saw the biggest decline among the seven, with enrollments in the department of nuclear-related studies plunging to 10 from last year's 34, a drop of 71 percent. Fukui University saw numbers drop to 25 from 42, a 40 percent drop. Fukui Prefecture, in which the two universities are located, has a concentration of nuclear reactors, including those stuck in the restart debate at the Ohi power plant.
Sources: Japan Times, 15, 17 & 29 April 2012 / USA Today, 9 April 2012
Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC). Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan