Editorial: Takahama reactor restart raises fresh nuclear safety concerns — The Asahi Shimbun

” The No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, is set to restart on Jan. 29.

It will be the third nuclear reactor to be brought back online under stricter safety regulations drawn up by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture were brought back online in August and October, respectively.

This March will mark the fifth anniversary of the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Electric utilities have formally requested that the NRA inspect 25 of the 43 reactors across the nation, plus one under construction, to determine whether they meet the new safety standards.

The No. 3 unit at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture is expected to be the next reactor to go online following the ones at the Sendai and Takahama plants.

We are deeply concerned about offline reactors starting up again one after another, especially as there are troubling signs that the bitter lessons from Fukushima are being lost.

Once again we express our opposition to the plan to restart the Takahama plant reactor.

Safety Concerns Being Ignored

In a July 2011 editorial, we called for a major shift in the government’s energy policy to build a society without nuclear power generation.

Before the 2011 calamity, nuclear energy accounted for nearly 30 percent of power supply in Japan.

There was concern that terminating nuclear power generation immediately would trigger a massive power crunch and soaring electricity bills, seriously impacting people’s livelihoods.

We argued that Japan should sharply reduce its dependence on atomic power and strive to build a society powered mainly by renewable energy sources.

We also maintained that offline nuclear reactors should be allowed to resume operations only after their safety has been ascertained and they were clearly necessary for meeting demand for electricity.

The first thing to point out about the plan to bring the reactor at the Takahama plant back on stream is that the “safety first” principle has been ignored.

The grim lesson we learned from Fukushima is that nuclear accidents far above anyone’s expectations can actually happen.

Fifteen nuclear reactors are located around Wakasa Bay in Fukui Prefecture, including some that are being decommissioned. This area has one of the highest concentrations of nuclear power facilities in the world.

What would happen if a natural disaster, for instance, triggers severe accidents at more than one nuclear power plant in a particular area?

No clear answer has been given to this question, which was raised by the Fukushima triple meltdown.

The NRA paid scant attention to this risk in its safety inspection of the reactor at the Takahama plant.

Last year, Kansai Electric Power decided to scrap two small and aged reactors in Fukui Prefecture, where it has 11 reactors in total. But the utility also decided to continue operating three reactors beyond their 40th year of service.

There is no denying that efforts to minimize the safety risks involved in the reactors in the prefecture have been grossly insufficient.

The No. 3 unit at the Takahama plant is a so-called plutonium-thermal reactor which burns mixed oxide (MOX) fuel consisting of plutonium blended with uranium. It should not be forgotten that this fact further increases safety concerns among local residents.

Poor Safety Protection for Residents

The emergency evacuation plan, which should serve as the last protective shield for local residents during nuclear emergencies, is far from reliable.

Local governments of areas within 30 kilometers of a nuclear power plant are required to develop plans for emergency evacuations of local residents.

A total of 12 municipalities in the three prefectures of Fukui, Kyoto and Shiga are located within that distance of the Takahama plant. They have a combined population of 179,000.

Late last year, the government’s Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Commission approved the wide-area evacuation plans that have been worked out by the three prefectures.

In the worst case scenario, local residents living within a 30-km radius would be evacuated to 56 cities and towns in the four prefectures of Fukui, Hyogo, Kyoto and Tokushima, according to these plans.

But only seven cities of the 56 municipalities have devised plans to accept evacuees in such a situation, according to a survey by The Asahi Shimbun.

Most of the municipal governments surveyed said they had concerns about factors such as their ability to secure necessary facilities, manpower and materials to accept evacuees and the possibility of vehicles contaminated with radiation entering their areas.

Their anxiety is by no means surprising given that before the Fukushima accident it was not assumed that residents living outside a 10-km radius of a nuclear power plant might have to be evacuated in a nuclear emergency.

Ensuring the effectiveness of evacuation plans requires repeated drills and reviews to evaluate the blueprints.

But no evacuation drill has been conducted under an evacuation plan for an area around the Takahama plant. It is deeply worrisome to see the reactor being restarted without confirmation of the feasibility and effectiveness of the evacuation plans.

In response to anxiety among local residents, many of the local governments of areas within 30 km of the plant asked Kansai Electric Power to give them the right to consent to a plan to restart a reactor.

But the utility rejected their requests, while the central government has stuck to the position that all that is required for a reactor restart is consent from the local governments of the area where it is located.

Restarting a reactor without solving these safety issues can only be described as a premature move.

Road Map Needed for Nuclear-free Future

Electric power companies have stressed concerns about stable power supply and rises in electricity charges due to increasing fuel costs as main reasons for their efforts to resume operations of idle reactors.

But the situations related to these problems have been clearly changing prior to the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

All nuclear reactors remained out of operation for nearly two years until last summer. But no serious power shortage occurred during the period.

In addition to various maneuverings by utilities to meet demand, such as delaying regular safety checks of their thermal power plants, spreading power-saving efforts among the public also contributed significantly to preventing a power crunch.

Kansai Electric Power’s sales of electricity, for instance, have fallen by about 10 percent from before the Fukushima accident.

Deregulation of the power retail market will allow households to choose their suppliers, starting in April. This will make consumers even more conscious of the efficiency of their use of electricity.

After growing for a while because of factors blamed on the economic effects of shutting down reactors, Japan’s trade deficit has started shrinking thanks to falls in fuel costs due to lower crude prices.

Kansai Electric Power says it can lower its electricity charges if the reactor at the Takahama plant starts running again. But amid serious safety concerns, this offers no convincing rationale for restarting the reactor.

Another big question related to reactor restarts is how to find a location for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel that is piling up in pools within nuclear power complexes.

The dispute over the plan to restart the reactor in Fukui Prefecture has underscored differences in the stance of the local communities calling for the implementation of the plan, and that of the Kansai region, which has generally been cautious about supporting the plan despite the fact that it consumes the electricity generated at the nuclear plant.

There can be no realistic vision for a future without nuclear power generation without support from the local communities that have been hosting nuclear plants for many years.

All the parties involved, including not only the central government but also areas that consume electricity generated at nuclear power plants, should work together to lay out such a future vision. ”


Fukushima nuclear crisis far from over, Kan says — The Japan Times

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant is not over five years since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered the meltdowns.

“There is no doubt” radioactive materials have been seeping into the sea after mixing with groundwater, Kan, who has been a vocal critic of nuclear energy since the crisis started, told the National Press Club in Washington.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said the issue of water contaminated with radioactive substances at the Fukushima plant is “under control,” including when he was making a pitch for Tokyo as host of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Kan disputes this. “The accident is still unfolding,” he said.

Kan was prime minister when the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl occurred following the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Kan, a lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Japan, also criticized Abe’s decision to raise the ratio of electricity produced by atomic energy to 20-22 percent of the nation’s total output by 2030.

“The goal is not achievable” unless Japan extends the maximum legal period of reactor operations or builds a new nuclear plant, Kan said.

Most nuclear reactors remain off line in Japan, but various operators are seeking restarts.

Kansai Electric Power Co. is set to reactivate a reactor at its Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture on Friday, in what would be the third restart since new safety standards were put in place. ”


Japan restarts nuclear reactor using plutonium-mixed fuel — Boston Herald via AP

” TOKYO — Japan on Friday restarted a nuclear reactor that uses riskier plutonium-based MOX fuel, the first of that type to resume operations under stricter safety rules introduced after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Japan’s large stockpile of plutonium has raised international nuclear security concerns, and the government has come up with the idea of burning it in reactors to reduce the amount.

The No. 3 reactor at Takahama nuclear plant in western Japan, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., went back online Friday. Dozens of people protested outside the plant in Fukui prefecture, where preparations for a restart of another reactor, No. 4, are also underway.

Fukui has more than a dozen reactors, the biggest concentration in one prefecture, causing safety concerns for neighbors including Kyoto and Shiga, whose Lake Biwa is a major source of drinking water for western Japan.

Two reactors that use conventional uranium fuel were restarted last year in southern Japan.

Japan started burning MOX, a plutonium-uranium hybrid fuel, in some of its conventional reactors in 2009. Experts say conventional reactors can safely burn MOX for up to one-third of their fuel, but it emits more radiation and could interfere with control rods when they are needed to suppress the nuclear chain reaction.

Japan has enough plutonium, mostly from reprocessed spent fuel, to make 6,000 bombs.

Nearly five years since a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, about 100,000 people still cannot return to nearby areas. Workers at the plant continue to struggle with its decommissioning, which will take decades.

Aiming to help business by generating energy, Japan’s government is pushing to restart as many reactors as possible after they are deemed safe. Forty remaining workable reactors are still offline for safety checks. ”

by Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press


Fukushima-themed opera staged in Germany — The Japan Times

An opera about Japan’s disaster-devastated Fukushima Prefecture has received its world premiere at an opera house in the northern German city of Hamburg.

Composed by Japanese musician Toshio Hosokawa and directed by the writer of its original story, Oriza Hirata, “Umi, Shizukana Umi” (“Stilles Meer,” “Calm Sea”) was put on stage at the Staatsoper Hamburg opera house on Sunday. The conductor is Kent Nagano, a third-generation Japanese-American who recently became musical director at the Hamburg State Opera.

The work depicts a German woman’s internal struggle after her husband and son were washed away by mammoth tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake and ruined the northeastern Japan coast on March 11, 2011. In the setting, search and rescue operations for tsunami victims were suspended due to the subsequent nuclear crisis caused by the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

After the performance in German, the audience gave a big hand.

Hosokawa said in a statement posted on the opera house’s website that the tsunami and the nuclear disaster made him think again about the power of nature and arrogance of human beings. This work is dedicated to the disaster victims, he noted.

The opera is scheduled to be staged a total of five times at the opera house through Feb. 13. ”


Fukushima governor pushes sake in Davos to eradicate safety concerns — The Asahi Shimbun

” DAVOS, Switzerland–Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori pitched sake on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Jan. 21 to prove the safety and quality of his prefecture’s products to the international community.

Uchibori introduced premium sake brewed by Homare Sake Brewery Co. in Kitakata, Fukushima Prefecture, during the Japan Night promotion event at the Davos meeting of business, political and academic leaders from around the world.

The sake won the Champion Sake top prize at last year’s International Wine Challenge in London, one of the most prestigious liquor competitions in the world.

“The world’s top sake is brewed in Fukushima,” Uchibori told reporters during the event, which was organized by Japan’s business community and other parties. “We sincerely hope that people around the world recognize that sake, agricultural produce and other food products from Fukushima are safe and of top quality.”

After sipping the sake, a 27-year-old official from a London-based public relations company said he was impressed by its quality.

He also said he hopes to help the prefecture’s recovery by buying its products.

Food producers in Fukushima Prefecture continue to struggle against the negative publicity caused by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. ”

by Kazuo Teranishi and Ichiro Matsuo


Repentant ex-Tepco exec helps Fukushima with new tomato farm — The Asahi Shimbun

” MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–A former Tokyo Electric Power Co. executive who feels guilt over the 2011 nuclear disaster is behind the start-up of a tomato farm which opened in the devastated region here Jan. 20.

Eiju Hangai, whose previous employer operates the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is now president of Minami-Soma Fukko Agri KK, an enterprise formed by business leaders with ties to the city.

At the farm’s opening ceremony, Hangai said he hopes that the project will help ease local farmers’ struggles in the aftermath of the disaster at the plant.

“We must shoulder the responsibility for causing the nuclear accident for the rest of our lives and we are hoping to carry out part of our responsibility through this initiative,” he said.

“We aim to offer not only job opportunities in the agricultural sector, but also train people for future managers in the industry.”

The company spent 1.1 billion yen ($9.4 million) to purchase a 2.4 hectare property and build the farm.

Of this, 740 million yen was covered by a grant from the central government designed to help businesses creating jobs.

Financial institutions in the prefecture collaborated by extending loans worth 100 million yen in start-up funds.

Around 50 local people have been hired to work on the farm in the city’s Shimoota industrial park.

Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai, who is from a farming family himself, gave encouragement to the employees at the ceremony.

“Since I started in agriculture myself, I am fully aware of the frustration of farmers who could no longer do their work,” he said. “I would like you to channel your frustration into hope and take pride in working in an industry that protects life.”

The farm’s tomato is named “Asubito Tomato” (Tomatoes grown by people playing a key role in building the future).

Minami-Soma Fukko Agri has set an annual target of 660 tons, with the first shipment expected in early March.

Currently, 28,000 tomato seedlings are grown in a 1.5-hectare greenhouse where the room temperature is kept above 20 degrees by computerized control.

Humidity and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the greenhouse are also managed by the computer. ”