18 Juillet 2016
July 18, 2016
Satoshi Mitazono, governor-elect of Kagoshima Prefecture, said during the election campaign, “Operations at the nuclear plant should be suspended temporarily for another (safety) check.” The southern prefecture hosts the Sendai nuclear power plant, the only one currently operating in Japan.
The 58-year-old former TV Asahi Corp. commentator, who ran for office as a first-time, independent candidate, defeated incumbent Governor Yuichiro Ito, 68, who had approved the reactor restarts at the nuclear plant operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co.
Ito was seeking a fourth term. Many believe Mitazono won the election because of his criticism of how Ito had held the same office for so many consecutive terms.
But Mitazono’s election pledge to temporarily halt the Sendai nuclear plant, in response to the recent series of strong earthquakes in neighboring Kumamoto Prefecture, was probably no less relevant, given the spreading anxiety among the public.
During the first week following the onset of the quakes, Kyushu Electric received 5,000 e-mails and phone calls asking for a halt to the Sendai reactor operations.
Immediately after he was elected, Mitazono reiterated that he will request a temporary suspension with Kyushu Electric, but he has yet to provide more details on the matter.
A temporary shutdown was certainly one of his election pledges, but he did not bring that to the fore during the campaign. Suspicion seems to be arising in the minds of Kagoshima Prefecture’s public, including both proponents and opponents of nuclear energy.
The governor has no legal authority to shut down an active nuclear reactor. But the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the Sendai nuclear plant, which went back online in summer and autumn last year, are expected to go offline for routine inspections in autumn and winter.
Kyushu Electric does not need to obtain the governor’s approval to reactivate the reactors once the checkups are over, but the utility cannot totally ignore the governor’s intentions, which, therefore, will set higher hurdles for the reactor restarts.
Mitazono should continue to firmly talk about his own beliefs.
Some speculate he is probably working out strategies to deal with Kyushu Electric and the prefectural assembly, which upheld the nuclear restarts. But the first and most basic thing he must do is provide an explanation to the prefecture’s public.
During the gubernatorial election campaign, Mitazono promised to shut down operations of the Sendai nuclear plant, conduct a check on its facilities and review the emergency evacuation plans. He also pledged to set up a panel of experts to discuss nuclear power issues.
The Kumamoto quakes, which caused many roads and bridges to collapse, were followed by aftershocks that gradually approached the Sendai nuclear plant. People in Kagoshima Prefecture were worried that an earthquake striking near the nuclear plant could tear up emergency evacuation routes.
Mitazono’s pledge indicated a readiness to address those anxieties.
Niigata and Shizuoka prefectures are among the local governments that have already set up panels similar to the expert panel on nuclear power issues being floated by Mitazono.
Although the central government’s Nuclear Regulation Authority is in charge of safety screenings of nuclear reactors being planned for restarts, it is essential for local governments to play an active role in defending their own residents without leaving the matter up to experts.
Given that Mitazono was elected after pledging to temporarily halt the nuclear plant, the incoming governor should explain his thoughts carefully and continue his efforts to ease the anxieties of Kagoshima Prefecture’s residents.