Politicians, from the prime minister down to heads of municipalities, simply do whatever they want, and say they will take responsibility for their political decisions as if they would remain in office for life. In this case, the decision involves the restart of Ooi Nuclear Power Plant in Ooi-machi in Fukui Prefecture.
The town is very much eager to restart the plant. It is not just the town's politicians but the residents who are all for it because their jobs depend on the plant in direct and indirect ways.
Yomiuri Shinbun reports that Ooi Nuke Plant may be restarted in June, now that the conditional agreement from the Union of Kansai Governments, a political alliance of 7 prefectures in Kansai Region set up in 2010 whose aim is to create a semi-autonomous political and administrative block limiting the power of the central government.
In this case, the Union seems like a convenient cover to override the dissent within the Union and to let the central government restart the plant operated by Kansai Electric (KEPCO) in one of the member prefectures.
From Yomiuri Shinbun (5/30/2012):
Restart of Ooi Nuke Plant to be decided in first half of June, after the Kansai governors agreed
The government held a ministerial meeting headed by Prime Minister Noda on May 30 over the restart of Reactors 3 and 4 at Ooi Nuclear Power Plant (located in Ooi-cho in Fukui Prefecture). The ministers came to a conclusion that there was a certain understanding of the safety of the plant among the municipalities in Kansai Region.
Prime Minister Noda is to ask Fukui Prefecture and Ooi-cho for consent to restart the plant. If the consent is obtained, the ministerial meeting will be held sometime in the first half of June to formally decide to restart the plant.
In the meeting with Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Edano, Minister in charge of nuclear accident Hosono, and Chief Cabinet Minister Fujimura, Prime Minister Noda said, "We are getting a certain understanding from the related municipalities. If the decision by the municipality where the nuclear power plant is located is obtained, we will discuss the matter thoroughly in the ministerial meeting. Eventually, I would like to make the decision [to restart] under my responsibility."
All 50 nuclear reactors have been stopped after the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident in March 2011. If the reactors at Ooi Nuclear Power Plant restart, they will be the first to do so after the accident.
The Union of Kansai Government (headed by Governor of Hyogo Prefecture)released the statement on May 30 that said, "[Our] evaluation of safety is provisional, and we strongly urge (the national government) to decide appropriately that the scope of the restart is limited". With the statement, the Union has effectively agreed to the restart, provided that the plant operates only during the summer. The national government has determined [from the statement] that a "certain understanding from the consumer of electricity" has been obtained, which is one of the government's conditions for a restart of a nuclear power plant. After the release of the statement, Governor of Hyogo Prefecture Ido told reporters, "We will leave the final decision to the national government. We are in no position to take further action at this time", emphasizing that it would be up to the national government.
So these 4 ministers, dexterously maneuvered by Mr. Sengoku from beyond the scenes, make a political decision to restart a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power generation still is the "national policy" where all decisions therefore are made politically (as if politics can ensure safety). And the Union of Kansai Governments, despite the stated objective to be more "independent" of the central government, simply tosses the ball back to the central government.
Noda asking for "consent" is a mere formality, just like those town hall meetings to "discuss" whether to accept a nuclear power plant, a restart of a nuclear power plant, or disaster debris. As to his "responsibility", he is not likely to remain a prime minister of Japan for long (although he could surprise people on that).
But what's most notable was the remark by Goshi Hosono, which is not in the above Yomiuri Shinbun news but was reported by Fukui Broadcasting Co (Nippon Television Network) in Fukui Prefecture (5/30/2012). The Fukui Broadcasting Co. piece demands the strong national government policy decision, and quotes Goshi Hosono as saying:
"There is no limit to assuring safety. We will aim for a higher safety as we make sure to incorporate new knowledge."
NHK has a bit more details:
"It's not possible to take all the necessary measures [to ensure safety] of nuclear power plants. The government thinking is to take ever-higher levels of measures based on new knowledge."
"We will establish a new set of safety standards under the Nuclear Regulatory Agency [to be created], and will re-evaluate Ooi Nuclear Power plant. If the re-evaluation reveals something wrong, we will take strict measures including stopping the use of the plant."
(Hosono really doesn't know what he's talking about...)
Many Japanese have interpreted his remark as: "It is not possible to achieve 100% safety, therefore we will simply restart the plant and see what happens. If something bad happens, then we will stop the plant."
Mr. Hosono also promised that one of the two Senior Vice Ministers of Economy, Trade and Industry will be stationed in Ooi-cho supposedly to keep an eye on the plant and make sure it's "safe". Isn't that reassuring.
If the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident taught us anything, it is that you cannot necessarily stop the plant when something bad does happen. All these politicians must be hoping that won't happen during their tenures.