Putting power over public safety? Japan to restart two nuclear reactors

This picture taken on April 12, 2012 shows the third (R) and fourth reactor building of the Ohi nuclear power plant of the Kansai Electric Power Co (KEPCO) at Ohi town in Fukui prefecture, western Japan (AFP Photo/Jiji Press/Japan Out)
The Japanese town of Ohi has deemed it necessary to restart its two nuclear reactors, citing imminent power shortages. But Robert Jacobs, a professor of nuclear history, told RT the move is meant to avert investment losses in the nuclear sector.

The Ohi town assembly defended the decision to put the reactors back online, citing potential damage to the local economy and the rise in unemployment the prolonged halt of the reactors could cause. The decision will become official when the assembly convenes on Monday.

However, activists argue that a transfer to greener energy sources would boost local economies and create far more jobs in the long-term.
Japan is facing serious energy shortfalls this summer after the decision to shut down the last of its 53 reactors on May 5.

In response to the potential crisis, the Japanese central government has been trying to convince towns hosting atomic stations to approve their reactivation.

But Robert Jacobs, a professor of nuclear history and culture at the Hiroshima Peace Institute, told RT the push to reopen the plants is the perfect example of a government putting money before human health.

RT: Greenpeace has called the government's push to restart nuclear plants “reckless.” Are these reactors safe to reactivate?

Robert Jacobs: No, these reactors are not safe to restart. Japan remains the most active seismic nation on Earth and there are many earthquake faults under or nearby many of the reactors, and many others are in tsunami zones. Additionally, there have been repeated and blatant disregard for safety procedures at many Japanese nuclear plants. None of these issues have been addressed during the shutdowns, and in fact the worst of these (seismic activity and tsunami threats) cannot be addressed or improved. In order for nuclear power plants not to pose a threat they must be in a secure location and operated flawlessly. The first of these criteria cannot be achieved, and the second has not.

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'The Japanese government is going to push as hard as it can to restart the reactors.'

RT: Is it necessary for Japan to restart these two reactors in the face of this summer’s predicted energy shortages?

RJ: No. Japan can meet these predicted shortages through a combination of conservation and other sources of energy. Many Japanese companies have taken steps to reduce power usage in ways that should have been practiced all along. These have significantly reduced demand and allowed the companies to continue to operate at current levels while reducing their power needs. Currently Japan is importing more coal and gas to make up for shortfalls in nuclear power production. So there is no short term crisis in terms of meeting the demands of power customers.

RT: Do you think this will be the beginning of a domino effect, and the government will begin to reactivate other stations?

RJ: The government of Japan and the power companies are dedicated to restarting the reactors. This is primarily for two reasons. First, they believe that the longer the nuclear plants remain offline, the harder it will be to eventually restart them. So they are determined to restart the reactors just to keep them viable. This is a political choice. The second reason is because the power companies have invested so much money into the nuclear power plants (half of their assets for some of them) that they do not want to see those investments become worthless. So to preserve the value of their assets, they will push very hard to restart the nuclear reactors, whether they are safe or not. This is an economic choice. But the people of Japan are almost entirely against restarting the nuclear plants and that is why they remain offline. They don't believe the assurances of the government, the power companies, and also the media. Also, they see that the nuclear power plants are all offline and the world has not come to an end as many in the government and power companies said would happen.

RT: Given that Japan relied on nuclear energy for 30% of its power prior to the Fukushima disaster, is a nuclear-free future viable?

RJ: Yes. This would be the case eventually anyways, even if Fukushima had never happened. The nuclear power industry has been in its death throes for some time now. No new plant has been built for a long time. They are not actually very profitable investments. So if no new plants were to be built, sooner or later all of the current plants would shut down and Japan would have entered a non-nuclear future regardless. The meltdowns have just hastened the inevitable. The current debate is about whether or not to focus on maximizing the return to the power companies on their investments before this happens. But at the cost of public safety this is a ridiculous choice to make.

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'Previously most Japanese people had faith in the wisdom and honesty of authorities such as the government, larger corporations and the media, that faith has been broken…"

RT: What do you think the government’s mixed energy program, due to be unveiled this summer, will entail?

RJ: On this I am not well-informed, but my guess is that they will attempt to soften the push to restart the reactors by couching it in a larger "mixed" energy program. There is no choice but to include several sources of energy, so there is already a mixed program. But when they formally introduce such a program, it will be a way to include restarting the nuclear power plants being made to seem like a small part of the program – when it is the entire purpose of this repackaging of the image.

RT: What is the Japanese government doing to allay the fears of a nuclear-weary population?

RJ: The Japanese government is going to push as hard as it can to restart the reactors. They have already been doing this. They claim that Japan will become a Third World nation if it does not restart the reactors. They claim that there will be widespread blackouts and that corporations will leave the country if the plants are not restarted. But there has been a big change here in Japan. Whereas previously most Japanese people had faith in the wisdom and honesty of authorities such as the government, larger corporations and the media, that faith has been broken and the Japanese people are no longer so easily swayed by such doom and gloom pronouncements and will not be easily manipulated. This is going to be a very contentious standoff.