Japan’s political parties call for restarting nuclear reactors amid high fuel prices

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hiroyuki Hosoda, head of a Liberal Democratic Party association on stable electricity supplies, addresses the group in the Diet Building on Thursday.

Calls to restart Japan’s idled nuclear reactors are mounting within various political parties, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sends energy prices soaring.

These politicians are concerned that continuing Japan’s heavy dependence on imported energy could have a major impact on people’s daily lives.

Restarting reactors is not as simple as it sounds, as each requires clearing stringent safety requirements, so bringing these units back online faces some high hurdles.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Parliamentary Association for the Promotion of Stable Power Supply has thrown its weight behind the restart of nuclear reactors.

“Oil prices are skyrocketing. Natural gas and coal are in a difficult situation,” Hiroyuki Hosoda, speaker of the House of Representatives and head of the group, said at a meeting in the Diet Building on Thursday. “I want our group to work hard to get reactors restarted.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

At the meeting, the LDP group adopted an urgent resolution calling for nuclear reactors that are currently shut down to be swiftly brought back online. The group will submit this resolution to the government soon.

Similar calls are emerging from the opposition parties.

“If nuclear reactors meet the safety standards set under the law, they should be allowed to restart,” Democratic Party for the People leader Yuichiro Tamaki said at a press conference Tuesday.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) leader and Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui expressed his view that “restarting nuclear reactors that have been temporarily shut down will be unavoidable.”

Nuclear power accounted for 25% of electricity generated in Japan in the year through March 2011. Since the March 11, 2011, accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, most reactors have struggled to resume operations

In the year through March 2021, just 3.9% of the nation’s electricity was generated through nuclear power.

The shortfall left by mothballed reactors has been filled by increasing electricity generated by natural gas (39%) and coal (31%). Rising prices of these energy sources have a massive impact on Japan’s economy.

According to preliminary figures released Tuesday, Japan posted a current account deficit of ¥1.19 trillion in January. The current account represents a nation’s imports and exports of goods and services and investment returns.

As of February, only 10 of the 36 nuclear reactors in Japan — including those under construction but excluding those set to be or being decommissioned — had come back online, even briefly, since the Fukushima nuclear accident. Of these 10, three are currently shut down for regular inspections or other reasons.

Expectations that more reactors will be restarted are mounting within business circles. Even so, nuclear power plant operators must clear what Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has said are “the world’s strictest regulatory requirements.”

Under these rules, operators are required to prepare for terrorist attacks, such as an aircraft being deliberately crashed into a plant, and control rooms that operate reactors must be located away from the reactor building.

In addition, the operators must thoroughly understand safety regulations for maintaining the facilities. Reactor units 6 and 7 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture met the new regulatory requirements in December 2017, but safety regulation screening have dragged on. Several shortcomings were detected in measures drawn up to counter terrorist attacks as well. As things stand, no time frame has been set for restarting these reactors.

“Reactors can’t quickly resume operations simply because fuel prices are surging,” a government official said.