TOKYO Feb 23 The government should play a
bigger part in managing Japan's nuclear power industry ,
its role currently being questioned following the Fukushima
radiation crisis, Environment Minister Goshi Hosono said on
Japan, currently facing a power crunch with only two of its
54 nuclear reactors currently in operation since the March
Fukushima disaster, should also make safety a top priority and
operate only the minimum number of atomic reactors necessary,
Hosono told a group of reporters.
"The first step towards more government involvement in the
nuclear industry is turning steps required towards handling
severe nuclear accidents into law and requiring utilities to
adhere to them," Hosono said.
How Japan's power utilities operated nuclear reactors has
been questioned heavily after a powerful tsunami and earthquake
last March devastated the Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant,
240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo and triggered the worst
radiation crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the utility operating
the Fukushima Daiichi plant, has been swamped with huge
clean-up, compensation and decommissioning costs, leaving it in
need of a massive public fund injection.
Japan is currently prodding Tepco to accept more government
involvement in the firm in return for the cash bailout.
But Hosono said nationalisation of nuclear power would not
automatically make conditions safe.
"Nationalisation is not a shortcut towards safety. No matter
how much we tighten regulation, safety won't be attained unless
the people on the ground remain innovative and persistently
strive to maintain standards," Hosono said.
Hosono, who will also be overseeing Japan's new nuclear
watchdog that begins operations in spring, said the government
was also likely to deepen its involvement in other nuclear
issues such as the processing of plutonium and enriched uranium.
Japan faces a potential power crunch in the summer, when
demand for electricity traditionally soars, as public concern
after Fukushima has prevented the quick restart of nuclear
reactors shut down for routine maintenance. All of Japan's 54
nuclear reactors will be offline by April unless some are
The government is applying what it views as
stringent stress tests on its nuclear plants which must be
passed before a plant can resume output.
Keen to avoid an economically disruptive power
crunch, the government has been conducting the tests to prove
their safety, although local governments hosting the plants have
demanded further tests that take into consideration data from
the Fukushima disaster.
Hosono said like many other countries Japan was still in a
development stage towards reinforcing the way it managed risk,
steps that included the stress tests.
"When considering this, the most powerful argument likely to
convince local governments is that severe accidents will not
occur even if a disaster equalling Fukushima was to strike," he
"We are already attempting to explain, but it appears that
we have not been able to fully convince the local governments so
After the first round of stress tests Japan's reactors still
need to undergo a second-stage test to satisfy a broader set of
"I think Japan will not, and should not, sacrifice the
safety of nuclear power to ensure a stable source of
electricity," Hosono said.
"Our stance needs to be that we will only allow the minimum
amount of nuclear reactors to operate under the extremely strict
The minister added that Japan would be able to adopt
renewable energy efficiently and within a short span of time
when society realised the need for such sources of power.