Located in an area with a history of volcanic activity, the Sendai plant is viewed as being vulnerable to future possible eruptions. Kyushu Electric says that if an imminent eruption is predicted, it will take the nuclear fuel out of the plant’s two reactors as a safety precaution. But it is difficult to predict volcanic eruptions and the company has yet to decide how to transport the fuel and where it can be safely stored.
The plant itself has problems. Filtered ventilation systems to reduce the amount of radioactive materials released from the reactor core in emergencies will not be installed for another two years. And the plant has not established a permanent off-site facility to serve as a command center in emergencies. A temporary facility will be used for the time being.
In a news conference held after giving his consent to the restart, Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito declared that there would be “no issue of life or death” for local residents in the event of an evacuation, citing the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s assessment of possible radiation fallout from a severe accident at the Sendai plant. This statement ignores key lessons of the Fukushima crisis — that a severe nuclear accident can quickly spin out of control, and that even if radiation exposure does not claim any lives, the stress caused by evacuation and loss of property can cause grave and sometimes fatal health issues.
Because Ito decided that approval by the host city and Kagoshima Prefecture are sufficient to approve the restart, the exclusion of the eight other municipalities in the approval procedure for the Sendai plant may be used as a precedent by the Abe administration and other power firms as there are no legal regulations concerning which municipalities should be involved in such decisions. In short, the will of the people in nearby municipalities who may be directly affected by a severe nuclear accident can be completely ignored.
Trade and industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa said that if a nuclear accident occurs, the national government will be responsible for handling it. But the experience of the Fukushima disaster shows that such a promise means little in reality.