Photo/IllutrationThe Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan Atomic Power Co.’s approach to seeking to restart its aging Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture will do little to ease concerns and doubts about the safety of the plant within the local communities.

The company has been preparing to bring the idled facility back online despite having little chance to obtain the consent of the local communities around the plant.

It has been taking steps to improve the circumstances for achieving the goal without showing a solid commitment to addressing local concerns.

Japan Atomic Power has started meetings to explain its plan to resume the operation of the single-reactor plant to local residents.

The company is aiming to win support for the plan from as many local residents as possible by explaining the results of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s technical screening to approve the operation of the plant, which is approaching the end of its 40-year lifespan, and the safety measures it is taking to meet the new, tougher nuclear safety standards.

Last year, Japan Atomic Power reached a safety agreement with six municipalities around the plant.

The agreement requires the firm to obtain advance approval from the local authorities for restarting the plant. But it is unclear whether the plant operator has to win the consent of all six municipalities. The company and the local administrations have different views about this point.

A majority of people in the local communities think the plant cannot be brought back on stream if any of the six municipalities refuses to approve it.

But the company has not taken a clear position on this issue, only saying it will “talk things out” with the local authorities. This attitude has bred suspicion among local residents.

The agreement between the operator and the six municipalities has come to be known as the “Ibaraki formula.” It has widened the scope of local governments that have the effective right to approve a reactor restart to include not only the governments of the prefecture and municipality where the reactor is located, but also the local administrations in surrounding areas.

It has significant importance for fixing problems with the current procedures for restarting a reactor.

Local administrations in surrounding areas have every right to demand that they too be involved in the process since they have to bear the burden of being prepared for nuclear accidents and of developing plans for emergency evacuations.

Other nuclear host communities are closely watching the situation in Ibaraki.

Japan Atomic Power sought the agreement with the six municipalities as a means to win broad local support for its plan. The company should implement the pact in line with the wishes of these local administrations.

This accord has sharply raised the bar for obtaining local consent for the planned reactor restart, although it is not clear how the operator will talk with the six municipalities.

Even so, Japan Atomic Power apparently intends to start work in earnest to take the required safety measures for the plant.

It seems to be resorting to tactics aimed at accumulating faits accomplis to create momentum for its plan. This stance should be criticized as insincere to the local communities.

The aging Tokai No. 2 plant was damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, a fact that naturally makes local residents uneasy about its safety. The assemblies of more than half of the municipalities within the prefecture have expressed concerns about the operator’s plan to resume the plant's operation by taking such steps as adopting a written objection to the plan.

Some 940,000 people live within 30 kilometers of the plant, more than in any other 30-km emergency planning zone. The municipalities within the zone are struggling to work out the legally mandated evacuation plans for nuclear emergencies.

The prefectural government, for its part, has been making its own efforts to assess the safety of the plant.

Japan Atomic Power should make a sincere response to concerns and demands among the local communities and focus more on talks with the local governments and residents.

If it proceeds with the work to implement the required safety measures, the company will have to take new management risks and responsibilities.

Since the company, which is in bad financial shape, is unable to raise funds on its own to implement the necessary safety measures, which are estimated to cost at least 174 billion yen ($1.57 billion), it plans to receive financial support from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and other companies that are shareholders and customers of the operator.

TEPCO, which operated the ill-fated Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and has since been put under effective state control, has the principal responsibility to explain the rationale for providing financial support to Japan Atomic Power.

If Japan Atomic Power fails to win the consent of the local governments for its plan, the huge amount of money will be wasted.

In that case, the management of the companies involved will be held severely responsible for the debacle. Their executives should keep this in mind.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 6