Fukushima disaster sways former advocate of nuclear power — Bloomberg

” The man blocking the world’s largest nuclear plant says he grew opposed to atomic energy the same way some people fall in love.

Previously an advocate for nuclear power in Japan, Ryuichi Yoneyama campaigned against the restart of the facility as part of his successful gubernatorial race last year in Niigata. He attributes his political U-turn to the “unresolved” 2011 Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster and the lack of preparedness at the larger facility in his own prefecture, both owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.

“Changing my opinion wasn’t an instant realization,” Yoneyama said in an interview. “It was gradual. As people say, you don’t know the exact moment you’ve fallen in love.”

Yoneyama won’t support the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata until an investigation is complete into the chain of events that resulted in the triple meltdown at Fukushima, which he plans to visit Wednesday. While utilities don’t need approval of local authorities to restart plants, Japanese power companies are tradition-bound not to move ahead until they get their consent.

Local Opposition

Yoneyama, a 49-year-old doctor and native of Niigata, is one of the highest-profile local opponents pitted against a political establishment led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which sees nuclear power as crucial for the country’s long-term energy security and environmental goals. Regulations and public opinion are keeping nearly all of Japan’s atomic stations shut almost six years after the accident at Fukushima, where the search has barely begun for fuel that burned through to the bottom of the reactors.

“If the local governor remains firmly opposed to the restart, it will be very difficult for the reactors to come back online,” said James Taverner, an analyst at IHS Markit Ltd. “In addition to the local government, building the support and trust of local residents is key.”

A Kyodo News poll on the day of Yoneyama’s October election showed about 64 percent of Niigata voters opposed the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, known popularly as KK. The restart of the facility was one of the key issues in the race to replace Governor Hirohiko Izumida, who was famous for his tough stance on Tokyo Electric. He unexpectedly announced in August that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term.

To the residents of the prefecture, Yoneyama was the candidate who would make nuclear safety a priority, while his main opponent gave off the vibe that he was a member of the nuclear restarts camp, the former governor said by e-mail.

Switching Sides

In last year’s gubernatorial race for the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, where Kyushu Electric Power Co. operates the Sendai nuclear plant, a three-term incumbent was defeated by an opponent campaigning to temporarily close the reactors. A district court last year barred Kansai Electric Power Co. from running two reactors at its Takahama station in western Japan only weeks after they’d been turned back on.

Yoneyama supported bringing back online Japan’s reactors during his unsuccessful bid in 2012 for a seat in Japan’s lower house. The country was being forced to spend more on fossil fuel imports after the disaster, so restarting the plants was needed to help the economy recover, he said at the time.

Though Yoneyama’s position switch helped secure his first electoral victory after four failed campaigns for the country’s legislature, nuclear opponents see him driven by more than political opportunism.

“I had my reservations about Yoneyama,” said Takehiko Igarashi, an official at the Niigata division of the anti-nuclear group Nakusou Genpatsu. “But after he was vetted and endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party and other smaller parties that have an anti-nuclear slant, I knew that I could trust him.”

evTokyo Electric and Abe’s government see restarting KK as one way for Japan’s biggest utility to boost profits and help manage its nearly 16 trillion yen ($139 billion) share of the Fukushima cleanup. Resuming reactors No. 6 and No. 7 will boost annual profits by as much as 240 billion, the utility has said.

The economic argument, however, is beginning to hold less sway, with Yoneyama saying the benefits to the local economy are ‘overstated.’ While the prefecture risks missing out on 1.1 billion yen a year in government support without the restart, that represents a small slice of the prefecture’s budget, which tops 1 trillion yen, according to Yoneyama.

Abe, a strong backer of atomic power, leads a government aiming for nuclear to account for as much as 22 percent of Japan’s energy mix by 2030, compared with a little more than 1 percent now.

While restart opponents like Yoneyama demand the government guarantee the safety of the reactors, they’ve also criticized evacuation and emergency response plans as inadequate.

In his first meeting with Tokyo Electric executives since taking office, Yoneyama earlier this month told Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Naomi Hirose that he won’t support KK’s restart until a new evacuation plan is drawn up using the results of a Fukushima investigation. Tepco will fully cooperate with the probe and stay in communication with the governor, the company said in response to a request for comment.
“Once I realized that the Fukushima disaster couldn’t be easily resolved, of course my opinion changed,” Yoneyama said. “If another accident occurs, overseas tourism will become a distant dream. Even Japanese may flee the country.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski and Emi Urabe

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Fukushima aftershock renews public concern about restarting Kansai’s aging nuclear reactors — The Japan Times

” KYOTO – The magnitude-7.4 aftershock that rocked Fukushima Prefecture and its vicinity last week, more than five years after the mega-quake and tsunami of March 2011, triggered fresh nuclear concerns in the Kansai region, which hosts Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The aftershock came as the Nuclear Regulation Authority approved a two-decade extension for Mihama’s No. 3 reactor on Nov. 16, allowing it and two others that have already been approved to run for as long as 60 years to provide electricity to the Kansai region.

Residents need to live with the fact that they are close to the Fukui reactors, which are at least 40 years old. Despite reassurances by Kepco, its operator, and the nuclear watchdog, worries remain over what would happen if an earthquake similar to the one in 2011, or even last week, hit the Kansai region.

Kyoto lies about 60 km and Osaka about 110 km from the old Fukui plants. Lake Biwa, which provides water to about 13 million people, is less than 60 km away.

In addition to Kepco’s 40-year-old Mihama No. 3, reactors 1 and 2 at the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui are 42 and 41 years old, respectively.

In the event of an accident, evacuation procedures for about 253,000 residents of Fukui, Shiga, and Kyoto prefectures who are within 30 km of the plants would go into effect.

But how effective might they be?

The majority does not live in Fukui. Just over half, or 128,500, live in neighboring Kyoto, especially in and around the port city of Maizuru, home to a Self-Defense Forces base. Another 67,000 live in four towns in Fukui and about 58,000 live in northern Shiga Prefecture.

Plans call for Fukui and Kyoto prefecture residents to evacuate to 29 cities and 12 towns in Hyogo Prefecture and, if facilities there are overwhelmed, to Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku. Those in Shiga are supposed to evacuate to cities and towns in Osaka Prefecture.

In a scenario put together by Kyoto Prefecture three years ago, it was predicted that tens of thousands of people would take to available roads in the event of an nuclear accident. A 100 percent evacuation of everyone within 30 km of a stricken Fukui plant was estimated to take between 15 and 29 hours, depending on how much damage there was to the transportation infrastructure.

But Kansai-based anti-nuclear activists have criticized local evacuation plans as being unrealistic for several reasons.

First, they note that the region around the plants gets a lot of snow in the winter, which could render roads, even if still intact after a quake or other disaster, much more difficult to navigate, slowing evacuations even further.

Second is the radiation screening process that has been announced in official local plans drawn up by Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures.

While automobiles would be stopped at various checkpoints along the roads leading out of Fukui and given radiation tests, those inside would not be tested if the vehicle itself has radiation levels below the standard.

If the radiation is above standard, one person, a “representative” of everyone in the car, would be checked and, if approved, the car would be allowed to continue on its way under the assumption that the others had also been exposed to levels below standard. This policy stands even if those levels might be more dangerous to children than adults.

Finally, there is the question of whether bus drivers would cooperate by going in and out of radioactive zones to help those who lack quick access to a car, especially senior citizens in need of assistance.

None of the concerns about the evacuation plans is new, and most have been pointed out by safety experts, medical professionals and anti-nuclear groups.

But with the NRA having approved restarts for three Kansai-area reactors that are over 40 years old, Kansai leaders are responding more cautiously to efforts to restart Mihama No. 3 in particular.

“It is absolutely crucial that local understanding for Mihama’s restart be obtained,” said pro-nuclear Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa in July, after a local newspaper survey showed that only about 37 percent of Fukui residents agree with the decision to restart old reactors.

Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki, who is generally against nuclear power, was even more critical of the NRA’s decision to restart Mihama.

“There are major doubts about the law that regulates the use of nuclear reactors more than 40 years old. The central government and Kepco need to explain safety countermeasures to residents who are uneasy. People are extremely uneasy about continuing to run old reactors,” the governor said earlier this month. ”

by Eric Johnston

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Japan agrees second nuclear reactor life extension since Fukushima — Reuters

” Japan’s nuclear regulator on Wednesday approved an application by Kansai Electric Power Co Inc to extend the life of an ageing reactor beyond 40 years, the second such approval it has granted under new safety requirements imposed since the Fukushima disaster.

The move means Kansai Electric, Japan’s most nuclear-reliant utility before Fukushima led to the almost complete shutdown of Japan’s atomic industry, can keep No. 3 reactor at its Mihama plant operating until it is 60 years old in 2036.

The regulator granted the first such approval in June to Kansai Electric’s ageing reactors No.1 and 2 at its Takahama plant.

The Mihama No.3 reactor, which will turn 40 years old in December, has been shut down since 2011 and a restart will not happen before Kansai Electric carries out safety upgrades at a cost of about 165 billion yen ($1.51 billion). The upgrades involve fire proofing cabling and other measures and are planned to be completed in March 2020.

The regulator has been criticized for hastily approving the safety approval of reactors at the expense of safety.

Opinion polls consistently show opposition to nuclear power following Fukushima. Critics say regulators have failed to take into account lessons learned after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. ”

Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori, editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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Prospect of Niigata nuke plant delay threatens Tepco’s Fukushima plans — Nikkei Asian Review

” TOKYO — The election of an anti-nuclear candidate as governor of Japan’s Niigata Prefecture could hit the finances of not only Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings but the public as well, as the utility is relying on a reactor restart in Niigata to cover Fukushima cleanup costs.

The central government reached an arrangement in 2014 to extend up to 9 trillion yen ($86.6 billion currently) in interest-free loans to pay for dealing with the fallout of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster. Of this, 5.4 trillion yen is to go toward compensating those affected, with Tepco and other power companies, including Kansai Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power, to repay the loans. Another 2.5 trillion yen is earmarked for decontamination work, with the costs to be recouped through the sale of Tepco shares held by the government.

But more than 6 trillion yen in compensation has been paid out so far, and cost overruns on decontamination are seen as all but certain. Decommissioning work at Tepco’s Fukushima plant, such as extracting fuel, falls outside the 9 trillion yen framework.

The 2 trillion yen Tepco had aimed to secure on its own to pay for scrapping the plant will be nowhere near enough. The utility and Japan’s industry ministry had counted on bringing the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture back online, which would improve Tepco’s earnings by 240 billion yen a year. But Gov.-elect Ryuichi Yoneyama has indicated that he is not amenable to a quick restart.

An expert panel set up by the ministry started discussing how to handle the additional costs this month. It laid out a scenario in which improved profit margins at Tepco via restructuring, along with profits from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility, would be used to minimize the amount shouldered by taxpayers.

The longer it takes to restart the plant in Niigata, the larger the hit will be to Tepco’s available funding for Fukushima costs. Though the utility will squeeze out some money via internal reforms, Tepco may use rate hikes to pass on to the public what it cannot cover itself. Tepco and other utilities already have raised rates to recoup part of the compensation costs. A top industry ministry official indicated that rate increases will also be on the table to pay for decommissioning.

Power companies besides Tepco could be affected as well. Since many nuclear plants in eastern Japan use boiling-water reactors like those at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, further delays could hold up other reactor restarts in the region. ”

by Nikkei

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Japan extends reactor lifetimes for first time since Fukushima — POWER Magazine

” Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) this June approved 20-year license extensions for the aging Takahama 1 and 2 reactors, a first for the power-strapped country that has been conflicted about the future of its nuclear power plants since the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe in 2011.

A regulatory system established in the aftermath of Fukushima limits the operating lives of Japanese nuclear units to 40 years, though it allows a one-time extension of no more than 20 years. The NRA’s approval to allow the 40-year-old Takahama 1 and 39-year-old Takahama 2 to operate an additional 20 years was carried out as an “extraordinary case.” Kansai Electric Power Co., which owns the two 826-MW reactors, filed applications for the extensions in April 2015, as well as for its 826-MW Mihama 3 reactor in November 2015, saying that they were “important” for its business.

Under its revised long-term energy plan, Japan anticipates getting between 20% and 22% of its total generated electricity from nuclear power by 2030, and industry groups like the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum have argued that the lifetime extensions will be integral to meeting that target.

Four of the nation’s nuclear power plants idled after Fukushima have so far cleared the new regulatory standards required to resume operations, but only Sendai 1 and 2, which are owned and operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., are online. Kansai started up its Takahama 3 reactor on January 29 and Takahama 4 on February 26, but it took Unit 4 offline just three days later following a “main transformer/generator internal failure” (Figure 1). It was then forced to halt operations at Unit 3 on March 10 after Japan’s Otsu District Court issued a temporary injunction against the operation of both reactors because, the court said, the safety of the units could not be guaranteed. On July 12, Otsu District Court Judge Yoshihiko Yamamoto rejected Kansai’s request to lift the injunction. Kansai now says that—though it has filed to appeal the court’s decision to the Osaka High Court—it will begin removing nuclear fuel from the reactor cores.

Meanwhile, applications for 22 more nuclear plant restarts have been filed with the NRA. According to a 2017 economic and energy outlook released by the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan (IEEJ) in late July, at least 12 nuclear power plants should be restarted next year. The research group notes, however, that those projections are clouded by a number of issues, including court judgments and local agreements. That uncertainty could come at a significant cost to the nation, it added.

“Because of the judicial ruling that ceased operations at the Takahama Unit No. 3 and 4, it is important to analyse the effect of stopping operations of nuclear power plants from a local point of view,” the IEEJ’s outlook says. “As a rule, if one nuclear plant with the capacity of 1 MW stops operation for one year in an area where annual demand is about 100 TWh, total fossil fuel costs increase by [$594 million] and the energy-related [carbon dioxide] emissions increases by 4 Mt-CO2 (7% increase for the local emissions). The average electricity unit cost will increase by [$3.96/MWh] (1.8% rise of the average power unit price).” ”

by Sonal Patel

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Greenpeace reports jump in radioactive contamination in Fukushima waterways — The Japan Times

” Greenpeace Japan on Thursday said it has discovered radioactive contamination in Fukushima’s riverbanks, estuaries and coastal waters at a scale hundreds of times higher than pre-2011 levels.

One sample of sediment taken along the Niida River, less than 30 km northwest of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant, revealed the presence of cesium-134 and cesium-137 at levels of 29,800 becquerels per kilogram.

That was just one of 19 samples of dried sediment and soil the environmental activist group took and analyzed from the banks of the Abukuma, Niida, and Ota rivers. The samples were collected by Greenpeace in February and March.

All of the samples but one exhibited more than 1,000 Bq/kg of radioactive material. The lowest level, 309 Bq/kg, was logged at a spot along the Abukuma River.

Cesium-134 has a half-life of about two years, but cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years and is considered particularly hazardous. The standard limits set for radioactive cesium in Japan are 100 Bq/kg for general foods and 10 Bq/kg for drinking water.

“The radiological impacts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on the marine environment, with consequences for both human and nonhuman health, are not only the first years. They are both ongoing and future threats, principally the continued releases from the Fukushima No. 1 plant itself and translocation of land-based contamination throughout Fukushima Prefecture, including upland forests, rivers, lakes and coastal estuaries,” the report said.

Greenpeace Japan also published the results of tests on dried marine sediment samples collected at 25 points off the Fukushima coastal area, including three river estuaries, during this same period, at depths of between 7.4 and 30.6 meters. The results showed that the highest level of cesium was 144 Bq/kg taken from a sample collected off the coast from the Fukushima power plant, while the lowest total cesium figure was 6.5 Bq/kg off Nakanosaku, well to the south of the plant.

In addition to Fukushima, Greenpeace Japan took dried sediment samples from Lake Biwa at three locations near the shore. The results showed cesium levels to be between 7.1 Bq/kg and 13 Bq/kg at two locations, and negligible at the other two.

The safety of Lake Biwa, which provides drinking water for about 14 million people in the Kansai region, has become a major bone of contention between Kansai Electric Power Co., which wants to restart reactors in neighboring Fukui Prefecture, and residents in and around Lake Biwa who are fighting to keep them shut down. ”

by Eric Johnston

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