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As Japan reboots 44-year-old nuclear reactor, experts sound alarm via Reuters

Aaron Sheldrick

TOKYO, June 22 (Reuters) – The head of a major inquiry into Japan’s nuclear disaster and a former senior Cabinet adviser have sounded alarm over plans this week to restart a 44-year old reactor, saying the industry and government have not taken on board the lessons from Fukushima.

Kansai Electric Power (9503.T), which serves Osaka and its industrial environs – an area with roughly the same economic output as Mexico – will reboot the No. 3 reactor at its Mihama station in western Japan on Wednesday.

The reactor is the oldest to be restarted since the 2011 disaster and needed special approval to have its lifetime extended beyond the standard 40-year limit. Most reactors in Japan remain shut after the accident highlighted failings in regulation and oversight.

Tatsujiro Suzuki, a former deputy chairman of the Cabinet Office’s Atomic Energy Commission, told Reuters he has misgivings over how approval for the restart was obtained.

He said he was concerned about a lack of transparency and the use of subsidies to sweeten local opinion to get the necessary restart approval.

[…]

Bureaucrats from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which supports nuclear energy to power Japan’s industrial economy went to Fukui prefecture 110 times over a two-year period till early this year.

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METI said in response to emailed queries it had decided on the subsidies in April this year and had informed local officials in Fukui. The ministry confirmed the number of visits by officials to Fukui and said the trips were “to exchange opinions”.

Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who headed the biggest investigation into the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, described Fukushima as an avoidable “man-made” disaster in his 2012 report.

A silo mentality among executives and a collectivist mindset among bureaucrats, which puts organisational interests ahead of public duties on safety are still prevalent in Japan, Kurokawa said.

“It’s always important to ask what are the sanctions for bad corporate behaviour. If there are none, and in Japan there are none, then oversight is meaningless,” he said, adding he was “concerned” about the restart.

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