In the weeks since the nuclear phase-out was announced, Yukio Edano, industry minister, has said three approved but unfinished reactors are exempt from a central provision of the phase-out policy, under which no new plants will be built. Electric Power Development, the utility that owns one of the facilities, responded by saying it plans to resume work this year, with an eye to beginning electricity production some time after 2014.
Iida Tetsunari, a leading anti-nuclear activist, called the decision “insincere politics” that was “clearly against the principle” of ending nuclear power. The Mainichi newspaper, a national daily, said: “Many people must surely feel as though they’ve been tricked by a fox.”
Some skeptics had already dismissed the phase-out announcement as empty pre-election rhetoric. The target date was vague, and within days the cabinet of Yoshihiko Noda, prime minister, backtracked over implementation. Under pressure from pro-nuclear business groups, it resolved to act “flexibly” and with “constant verification and revision” — hedges that might keep the nuclear industry in business indefinitely.
It remains unclear exactly how many new reactors might be completed in practice. One of the three approved units, at Higashidori nuclear station, on the remote northern tip of Japan’s main island, is owned by Tokyo Electric Power, the disgraced and financially crippled operator of the Fukushima plant.
Construction is only about 10 percent complete, and Tepco’s problems make prospects for a resumption dim, according to government officials and analysts.
Electric Power Development’s facility, in the village of Oma not far from Higashidori, is about 40 percent finished, while the most advanced, Chugoku Electric’s Shimane plant in southwestern Japan, is more than 90 percent built and was supposed to have started operating this year.
Chugoku has not revealed its plans for the facility, but has been consulting local politicians over restarting work.
In theory, it is possible to reconcile finishing the plants with the gradual phase-out envisioned by the new energy policy. Japan has 50 reactors already in service, and they are to be used while the country develops alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power. Supporters of the partially built plants argue that they will contain the latest, safest technology, and scrapping them now would mean writing off the tens of billions of yen already sunk into construction.