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Referendums no way to decide restarts of nuclear reactors
Publication Date : 18-10-2012
Nuclear energy policy is connected with economic growth, employment and national security, among other concerns. It is not a matter that should be settled by referendums.
On the reactivation of reactors at nuclear power plants where safety has been confirmed, the government needs to be responsible for making decisions while taking local opinions into consideration.
The Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly has rejected a draft ordinance on holding a referendum to ask residents whether they would support the restart of reactors at Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka nuclear plant in the prefecture.
The draft ordinance was requested of the prefectural government by a citizens organisation that collected the signatures of more than 160,000 residents in the prefecture.
Even if such a referendum were held, the result would not be legally binding. But it would likely affect decisions made by the central government, concerned local governments and the utility company. We praise the prefectural assembly for its sound judgment in rejecting it and preventing unnecessary confusion.
The problem is that Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu expressed support for holding a referendum on the grounds that there were a large number of signatures in favor of submitting a draft ordinance.
The Hamaoka plant once played a vital role in power supply not only in Shizuoka Prefecture but also in wider areas covered by Chubu Electric.
But in May last year, at the legally groundless request of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the utility suspended the operations of the reactors. The utility remains unable to restart the reactors under the current circumstances.
Heads of local governments hosting nuclear plants have the duty of deciding whether to restart reactors while considering such factors as the safety of nuclear reactors, the supply and demand balance of electricity and the local economic impact.
Kawakatsu wanted to leave such a gravely important decision to a referendum. This does not represent respect for public opinion. Rather, the governor has left himself open to criticism for dodging responsibility.
Not a yes-or-no issue
In a referendum, residents are asked to simply vote yes or no on an issue. This is a method inherently unsuitable for such complex issues as whether to support the restart of nuclear reactors since voters may hold a variety of views, such as supporting a restart under certain conditions.
It will be reasonable to limit referendums to issues, such as those on mergers of municipalities, whose results would not greatly impact external parties.
Also in Niigata Prefecture, where Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant is located, procedures for the submission of a draft ordinance to hold a referendum have begun. We cannot brush off concern that moves seen in Shizuoka Prefecture may spread to many other local governments hosting nuclear plants.
The government has adopted a policy of using nuclear power as an essential source of electricity for the time being. It is more important than anything else to steadily put reactors back online. The government needs to make sincere efforts to obtain local understanding, together with utility companies operating nuclear plants.
But Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano and other relevant Cabinet ministers have taken a stance of leaving decisions on the restart of reactors to the Nuclear Regulation Authority and letting utility companies work alone to obtain local consent.
We cannot accept such "politics that does not fulfill its responsibilities".