Japan’s man to restart its reactors arrives with baggage

Newly appointed METI Chief Yoichi Miyazawa owns stock in TEPCO. His aide put a trip to a sex club on the government’s tab.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cannot catch a break with the post of Manufacturing, Export, and Trade, commonly known as METI, which has the premier mission of restarting the nation’s 48 nuclear reactors. Last week Abe accepted the resignation of Yuko Obuchi, a rising star in the Japanese political world, for spending $19,000 in campaign funds buying stuff from a family member’s business with her campaign funds.

miyazawaThis week the hastily appointed Yoichi Miyazawa (right), who held an economic policy post in Abe’s government before taking the METI job, admitted he owns about $2000 worth of TEPCO stock. He stoically denies that it will influence his decisions on whether the authorize restart of the utility’s reactors.

In what would be comical if it the nation’s energy strategy didn’t depend on the METI office, Japanese media also reported that a key aide to Miyazawa visited a sex club charging the expense of his personal adventure to the government. While the reported cost appears trivial, about $170, and may be missing a zero, opposition party leaders are having a field day with the news.

Getting back to business, Miyazawa said this week his priority is the restart of the  two reactors at the Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture. The Japan Times quoted him as saying;

“The first thing that I’d like to address is that the reactors have met the new safety standards created by the Nuclear Regulation Authority,” Miyazawa told reporters Thursday. “I’ll need to tell them that those safety standards are the strictest worldwide.”

The two reactors at Sendai have passed a rigorous safety review by Japan’s newly independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority. Additional reactors are expected to be tagged for restart in coming months. All of the reactors must also pass an operational readiness review to restart.

It’s likely Miyazawa, assuming he stays in office, will adopt the policy first laid out by his predecessor which is that reactors nearing or older than 40 years would not be restarted. Instead, their utility owners would be offered tax breaks for the loss of revenue and decommissioning costs. Seven reactors are on a short list and most are smaller units.

PM Abe is driving Miyazawa to restart the shut down reactors to reduce the huge expense of importing natural gas to replace the generating capacity of the shut down reactors.

Like Obuchi, Miyazawa has family connections to previous Japanese high political office holders.  He is a cousin to former PM Kichi Miyazawa. He’s expected to weather the current political embarrassments assuming there are no new reports of funny business about his investments or his staff.

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