Only last month it was reported that Japan had shut down operations at its last nuclear plant, leaving Japan without energy from atomic power for the first time for more than 40 years. Nevertheless, on June 16, the Japanese government approved plans to restart units 3 and 4 of the Ohi nuclear power station (NPS), western Japan, overseen by Kansai Electric Power Co. At the earliest, unit 3 will start power generation on July 4 and reach full power on July 8 and unit 4 will start power generation on July 20 and reach full power on July 24.
Makoto Yagi of Kansai Electric Power said, "Keeping safety first and foremost, we will proceed step by step toward the restart of the reactors."
Last year’s tsunami and earthquake at the Fukishima Dai-ichi plant, which triggered explosions and meltdowns, causing over 160,000 people to flee the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, forced the government’s hand to shut down operations at 50 of the country’s nuclear power plants. Countries like Germany were quick to follow suit amid high public opposition.
Alongside 400 protestors demonstrating outside the Prime Minister’s office, the Mayors for a Nuclear Power Free Japan, launched in Tokyo in April, held a news conference on Sunday to protest against the government’s plans. The group of 73 serving and retiring mayors submitted a letter to Prime Minister Noda on Monday stating that nuclear power “has not only destroyed the regional economy, but also brought great shocks to the Japanese economy overall.
“Furthermore, policies which cause deep concern for children's health throughout their lifetimes must not be handled. Children are our future and all children have the right to live in good health. We adults and municipalities, have the responsibility to protect these rights of children.
“Local municipalities and mayors also must take their responsibility to refuse to be silent in this situation and to actively make progress to aim for a society which does not depend on nuclear power, and realise regional policies to swiftly promote renewable energies.”
However, Issei Nishikawa, the governor of Fukui prefecture which oversees Ohi said, "I approve the plan because I have been assured of the government's safety efforts and because it will provide stability for our industries,” reports The Associated Press.
Kansai Electric Power Co. officials insist nuclear power remains integral to Japanese energy generation in order to be able to avert a power crunch in Osaka, Japan's second-largest metropolis and other areas in the west. According to The Associated Press, the company states that demand is expected to peak in mid-July or early August, so work needs to begin immediately to avoid shortages.
Disconcertingly, the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., who ran the Fukishima plant, admit they were unprepared for the nuclear meltdown. Reuters claims that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and science and technology ministry by Japan’s Foreign Ministry failed to release a report provided by US military aircraft on the spread of radiation, exposing residents to more than the annual permissible level within eight hours.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. is in the process of reviewing and strengthening measures to make sure that such a disaster does not recur.
"It is extremely regrettable that this information was not shared or utilized properly within the government and I have no words to apologize, especially to the disaster victims," Industry Minister Yukio Edano, top government spokesman during the crisis, told a news conference.
Perhaps in response to the backlash and protests, the government proposed a highly generous feed-in tariff on Monday for ¥42 for solar systems of 10kW or more for up to 20 years. This is double the tariff offered in Germany and more than three times that paid in China, with the potential to make Japan the world’s second-largest market for solar power generation.