KAGOSHIMA–Despite campaigning on a pledge to immediately suspend operations at the Sendai nuclear plant, Governor Satoshi Mitazono has now accepted the scheduled restart of a reactor there amid mounting pressure from the plant operator.
“I have no (legal) authority over whether (the reactor) can restart or not,” Mitazono said of the No. 1 reactor at the plant at a news conference on Oct. 28. “Kyushu Electric (Power Co.) will bring it back online anyway no matter how I respond.”
After being elected in July, Mitazono twice called on the utility in August and September to immediately shut down the plant in Satsuma-Sendai in the prefecture for additional safety checks.
Each time, the company turned him down.
Mitazono stopped making a similar request to the company, saying he would likely receive the same response.
After the No. 1 reactor went offline early this month for regular maintenance, the media focus has shifted to whether the new governor would accept the reactor’s scheduled restart around Dec. 8.
A governor does not have the legal authority to order a halt to the operation of a nuclear power plant.
Mitazono, a former TV journalist, won the gubernatorial race due, in part, to growing calls from the public for extra safety checks on the plant and the overhaul of the existing evacuation plan, which was compiled by his predecessor.
Concerns about the soundness of the plant mounted among voters since a series of powerful earthquakes struck Kumamoto Prefecture, Kagoshima Prefecture’s northern neighbor, in April.
Many of the roads and other infrastructure were damaged in the temblors in Kumamoto Prefecture, hindering residents from swiftly evacuating.
At that time, the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Sendai plant were the only two units operating in the nation. They were the first two reactors signed off on meeting the new regulations set after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Mitazono’s news conference was the first since he gave one in late July right after he took office.
He had signaled previously that he would decide on the restart of the No. 1 reactor based on the discussion of an expert panel he intended to set up at the prefectural government to examine the safety of the Sendai plant.
But he stopped short of laying out a specific time frame for forming the panel.
“I am hoping to do it as soon as I can,” he said at the news conference.
The governor has yet to submit a budget request needed to assemble the panel to the prefectural assembly.
The prefectural assembly is expected to convene in late November in the next session, meaning that the panel will not be established ahead of the No. 1 reactor’s restart.
Mitazono also said he expects to inspect the Sendai plant alongside other experts on nuclear energy next month.
The inspection is aimed at examining details of “special checks” Kyushu Electric promised to conduct, in addition to the regular maintenance of the No. 1 reactor.
“I am hoping to put together my thoughts about the plant’s safety through discussions with experts,” Mitazono said. “If necessary, I want to take some measures.”