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Editorial: JAPC pact seeking local bodies' consent for N-plant restart a good move

Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC) has signed a pact with six municipalities within a 30-kilometer radius from its Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, over prior approval of the facility's reactivation. Under the accord, the company must effectively obtain consent in advance from not only the village of Tokai, which hosts the nuclear station, but also Mito and four other surrounding cities after holding consultations.

While some issues remain unclear, including how to respond when the opinions of the six municipalities are divided, the pact is unprecedented in that it includes the need to obtain approval for reactivation from not only the local body hosting a nuclear plant but also from surrounding municipalities.

If a nuclear plant accident breaks out, its impact would extend beyond local municipalities hosting the facility. Nevertheless, surrounding municipalities not home to the plant are not granted the right to give prior consent to reactivation. JAPC's new pact should serve as a role model for reviewing such disparities across the country.

While host municipalities are usually reluctant to allow surrounding local bodies the right to give prior consent for reactivation, it was the former Tokai village mayor who initiated the latest scheme, calling on surrounding municipalities to negotiate with JAPC in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster in March 2011. A former proponent of nuclear power, the ex-mayor turned himself anti-nuclear after the Fukushima crisis, which broke out in the neighboring prefecture.

After the Fukushima disaster, the central government expanded areas where local governments need to draw up nuclear evacuation plans for residents from within an 8-10 kilometer radius of a nuclear plant to a 30-kilometer radius. In the case of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant, approximately 960,000 people live in a 30-kilometer radius from the facility -- the largest figure in the country. Nonetheless, local municipalities are still struggling to devise their own nuclear evacuation schemes.

JAPC may well have judged that it would be easier to obtain local understanding for reactivation if the right to prior consent was given to surrounding municipalities as well.

The central government and power companies operating nuclear plants should not take the JAPC pact as an exceptional case. There are seven nuclear reactors, operated by three utilities, which have been put back online under the new regulatory standards introduced in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Before restarting these reactors, utilities obtained approval from only the cities, towns and prefectures hosting the nuclear facilities. Power companies apparently believed that expanding the right to prior consent could set a high hurdle for reactor restarts.

With regard to Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture, which was restarted just last month, four surrounding cities have opposed the reactivation out of concern for resident evacuation plans. If electric companies are to keep ignoring the voices of residents of surrounding municipalities, public distrust in nuclear power would only be left growing.

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko spoke lightly of the JAPC pact with six municipalities, saying, "The central government is not in a position to get involved in it." The minister's comment clearly illustrates that he feels the matter as someone else's affair.

Under the country's basic energy plan, it is stated that the central government should come to the fore and make efforts to obtain the understanding of and cooperation for reactivation from concerned parties including local bodies hosting nuclear plants. The central government is urged to introduce laws on the procedures in which local bodies within a 30-kilometer radius from a nuclear plant give consent to reactivation, in a manner better reflecting their intentions.

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