Government and utilities shaken by high court challenge to public trust in Japan’s nuclear authority — The Japan Times

” Wednesday’s ruling by the Hiroshima High Court halting the planned restart of a nuclear reactor in Ehime Prefecture has cast doubt on the judgment of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority — which had approved the restart under stricter post-Fukushima guidelines — shocking the government and utilities across the nation.

The ruling deals a heavy blow to a plan by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to bring more reactors back online, and is sure to prompt the government and utilities to keep a closer eye on similar cases continuing across the country.

Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer representing local residents, called the ruling the “most important” since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, spurred by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

About 40 court cases — including those seeking injunctions — were filed in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown disaster. But while district courts have ordered some reactors stopped, each shutdown decision has been overturned by a high court.

“This is the first time (plaintiffs) have won at the high court level,” Kaido said at a news conference in Tokyo. He said the ruling may signal a turn of the tide.

Wednesday’s ruling was also noteworthy for touching on the risk of volcanic eruption.

“The possibility of heated rock and volcanic ash reaching the reactor cannot be evaluated as small. The location is not suitable” for a nuclear reactor, said presiding Judge Tomoyuki Nonoue in handing down the ruling. The reactor affected is the No. 3 unit at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant, which is located about 130 kilometers from the caldera of the volcanically active Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture.

“The effect that volcanic ash may have on reactors nationwide is underrated,” Kaido said.

Government officials were quick to attempt to play down the risk. “It’s just a court ruling. The government’s position to seek the restart for reactors approved by the (Nuclear Regulation Authority) remains unchanged,” said a senior trade ministry official.

The central government’s target for power generations calls for 20 percent to 22 percent of the nation’s supply to be contributed by nuclear reactors by 2030.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa told a news conference that the high court decision would not influence its ongoing and future safety screenings of other reactors.

“We will just fulfill the role of a regulator,” Fuketa said.

But the reality is that utilities have been seeking to convince municipalities that reactors cleared by the watchdog under the tougher guidelines are safe.

“I’m worried that it could create negative momentum,” said an industry official.

For Shikoku Electric, the blocked restart will mean a spike in fuel costs as it will be forced to rely mainly on non-nuclear power generation.

“While the nuclear reactors are suspended, we will need to rely on thermal power, which means we will need to shoulder a ¥3.5 billion loss per month for fuel,” an executive of the utility said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Other utilities are facing similar constraints. Kyushu Electric Power Co. aims to restart two reactors at its Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture, but local residents have filed an injunction seeking to halt the move. A Kyushu Electric executive said he was “surprised at the unexpected ruling” on the Ikata plant.

Meanwhile, the response of residents in Ehime Prefecture was mixed.

One man voiced concern over the ruling’s potential to damage the local economy. The man, who runs a lodging business, said the town accommodated several hundred nuclear power plant workers a year before the Fukushima disaster.

“Ikata is a town of nuclear power,” he said. “I feel that (the ruling) has left locals behind.”

Another resident, however, welcomed the move as a judicial “breakthrough.” ”

by Kyodo, The Japan Times

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Japan’s Kansai Electric to shut down 2 major nuclear reactors — Nikkei Asian Review

” OSAKA — Kansai Electric Power Co. has decided to close two large, aging nuclear reactors at a power plant in Fukui Prefecture in light of rising safety costs that make restarting such facilities financially untenable.

The Oi plant’s Nos. 1 and 2 reactors each have an output capacity of 1.18 million kW, making them Japan’s largest to be decommissioned aside from Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holding’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi reactors. Both started operating in 1979. The Osaka-based utility is in talks with Fukui local governments and other parties to make a final decision before winter.

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima catastrophe, Japan limited nuclear plants’ operating lifespan to four decades as a general rule. That period can be extended to a maximum of 60 years with the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s approval, but that requires safety investments to the tune of 100 billion yen ($894 million).

Previously, energy companies generally aimed to extend the lifespan of old plants with generation capacities of millions of kilowatts. But with safety costs climbing and energy demand stagnating, turning a profit has grown difficult even at large-scale facilities.

Kansai Electric had already decided to decommission two smaller reactors at its Mihama plant, also in Fukui. Those were among Japan’s six reactors — not including Fukushima Daiichi — with approval to shut down, all with output capacities in the 300,000 kW to 500,000 kW range.

Restarting a planned seven reactors is projected to cost Kansai Electric about 830 billion yen for safety measures. Adding the Oi pair would push the total over 1 trillion yen. Decommissioning a plant takes about 30 years and costs tens of billions of yen, but it is still cheaper than restarting it.

The power company sold around one-fifth less energy in fiscal 2016 than it did in fiscal 2010, as Japanese society grew more energy-conscious following the 2011 disaster and the liberalization of energy retail that led to a loss of customers. Shutting down the two Oi reactors and others will cut the Osaka utility’s generating capacity by around 10%, but with demand also cooling, the reduction is not expected to crimp supply.

Nuclear power now contributes less than 10% of Japan’s energy, down from about 30% before Fukushima. The government’s current plan calls for nuclear power to make up about 20-22% of the total in 2030, far above the present scale.

Japan idled its nuclear plants to make them compliant with tougher safety standards after Fukushima. At present, just five are back online, operated by Kansai Electric, Kyushu Electric Power and Shikoku Electric Power. The government’s target would require having around 30 plants running. But many are more than three decades old, and so will soon either need to be turned off or seek an extension.

If profit concerns force more power companies to go the Osaka utility’s route, Japan’s proportion of nuclear power will remain low, complicating the government’s plan. ”

by Nikkei Asian Review

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Cancer patient compensated for Fukushima work to sue Tepco — The Asahi Shimbun

” A 42-year-old man diagnosed with leukemia after working at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant plans to sue Tokyo Electric Power Co., saying the utility failed to take adequate precautions against radiation exposure.

He will also sue Kyushu Electric Power Co., operator of the Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture where he had also worked, in the lawsuit expected to be filed at the Tokyo District Court on Nov. 22.

The man, who is from Kita-Kyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture, will demand about 59 million yen ($541,000) in total compensation from the two utilities.

“TEPCO and Kyushu Electric, as the managers of the facilities, are responsible for the health of workers there, but they failed to take adequate measures to protect them from radiation exposure,” said one of the lawyers representing him.

“The man was forced to undergo unnecessary radiation exposure because of the utilities’ slipshod on-site radiation management, and as a result had to face danger to his life and fear of death,” the lawyer said.

The lawyers group said the man has a strong case, citing a ruling by labor authorities in October 2015 that recognized a correlation between his leukemia and his work in response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It was the first time cancer was ruled work-related among people who developed the disease after working at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The planned lawsuit will be the first legal action against TEPCO brought by an individual whose work-related compensation claim has already been granted.

Between October 2011 and December 2013, the man worked at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to set up a cover on the damaged No. 4 reactor building and perform other tasks.

The man also did regular maintenance jobs at the Genkai plant.

His accumulative radiation exposure at the two plants came to about 20 millisieverts.

He was diagnosed with acute myelocytic leukemia in January 2014. ”

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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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Monju fiasco, Fukushima plans point to a better energy source — The Asahi Shimbun

” We are perhaps witnessing a turning point in history regarding humankind and energy.

The total capacity of facilities in Japan that sell electricity generated from solar power under the feed-in tariff system exceeded 30 gigawatts by the end of last year, according to figures of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

Most of those facilities began generating power after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster in 2011. Their total capacity is worth 30 nuclear reactors, although actual output depends on the time of day and the weather.

Frankly, I was surprised to learn that solar power has grown so big despite the many barriers, such as regional utilities essentially setting upper limits on the amount of electricity generated with renewable energy sources that they purchase.

And solar power is turning out to be useful.

Through inquiries with nine regional utilities, The Asahi Shimbun learned that electricity generated with solar power accounted for about 10 percent of power supply at peak demand last summer.

In the service area of Kyushu Electric Power Co., the ratio was close to 25 percent.

The shift to renewable energies is more pronounced on the global scale.

For example, global wind power capacity topped 430 gigawatts in 2015, according to the Global Status Report released on June 1 by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), an international body.

Global nuclear power capacity is now 386 gigawatts, according to figures of the International Atomic Energy Agency, so wind turbines have outstripped nuclear reactors in terms of output capacity.

Solar power has a total capacity of 227 gigawatts, nearly 60 percent of that of nuclear power.

SOLAR FARM IN EMPTY TOWN

A symposium was held June 4 in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to commemorate the start of a large-scale solar farm project in the town of Tomioka, also in the prefecture. Tomioka remains entirely evacuated because of the nuclear disaster.

Under their own initiative, residents of the town plan to build a giant solar farm with an output capacity of 30 megawatts. Proceeds from the project will be used to help rebuild communities.

The plan is being led by Yoko Endo, a 66-year-old former music teacher, and her husband, Michihito, a 60-year-old former art teacher. The couple now live in evacuation in the city of Iwaki, also in Fukushima Prefecture.

The couple’s former home is in a government-designated “no-residence” zone, whereas Yoko’s family home nearby stands in a “difficult-to-return” zone.

Michihito’s 2 hectares of rice paddies have also been rendered unusable.

The couple said they thought they would still be able to produce something that would be good for Japan from their terrain, even if they could not return to Tomioka and no longer grow crops there.

They solicited cooperation from their “neighbors” in diaspora across the country for the solar farm project, and they obtained agreements from more than 30 landowners for the use of about 35 hectares of rice paddies.

The total cost of the project is 9.5 billion yen ($91 million), an exceptionally large figure for a project initiated by residents. Citizens’ investments will cover 1.3 billion yen of the expenses.

Proceeds from the project will be used to help elderly residents get to and from medical institutions and stores when they return to Tomioka. The money will also fund projects to help pass on farming technologies to younger generations when farming can resume in the town.

The couple plan to start building the solar farm this autumn and have it operational in March 2018.

“We hope to nurture the project so that people will look back and say that this solar farm project, led by the initiative of residents, was more bright and brilliant than any other project of the kind,” Yoko Endo said.

Other large-scale renewable energy projects are springing up in Fukushima Prefecture.

MONJU REACTOR IN DEADLOCK

“An energy source that relies on nuclear power is not suited to human needs,” Tetsuya Takahashi, a professor of philosophy with the University of Tokyo, said in his keynote lecture during the Koriyama symposium. “Once it runs amok, it hurts human livelihoods to an unrecoverable extent.”

Takahashi was born in Iwaki and spent his childhood in Tomioka. People from that area are now aspiring to create an energy source that is better suited to their needs.

As I listened to the professor talk, my thoughts went to Monju, the prototype fast-breeder reactor.

In 1956, shortly after Japan set out on its nuclear development program, the government said in its initial long-term plan that a fast-breeder reactor “best fits the circumstances of Japan.” At the time, the reactor appeared to represent the best solution.

In the following years, the fast-breeder reactor became the symbol of Japan’s nuclear development.

The government has spent 1 trillion yen on the construction of Monju, which began in earnest in 1985. But its development program was suspended after sodium leaked from the reactor in 1995.

Things got so bad that the Nuclear Regulation Authority recommended to science minister Hiroshi Hase last November that Monju should be brought under a different operating body.

“The first thing to do is to implement reliable maintenance in a state of suspended operation,” a study group set up by the science ministry said May 27 in a report about Monju’s operating body.

Something as basic as that is not being done properly.

A project once thought to symbolize national policy was, after all, not best suited to the people’s needs. ”

by Toshihide Ueda

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Japan approves first reactor life extension since Fukushima disaster — Reuters via The Business Times

” [TOKYO] Japan’s nuclear regulator on Monday approved an application from Kansai Electric Power Co to extend the life of two ageing reactors beyond 40 years, the first such approval 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 reactors No 1 and 2 at its Takahama plant operating until they are 60-years-old.

Both reactors have been shutdown since 2011 and any restart will not take place immediately as Kansai Electric needs to carry out safety upgrades at a cost of about 200 billion yen (S$2.57 billion).

A company spokesman told Reuters the upgrades involve fire proofing cabling and other measures and will not be completed until October 2019 at the earliest.

Takahama No 1 reactor is 41-years-old and the No 2 unit is 40-years-old. Located west of Tokyo, both have a capacity of 826 megawatts and are pressurised water reactors, which uses a different technology than the boiling water reactors that melted down at Fukushima in 2011.

Kansai’s No 3 and 4 units at the Takahama plant are under court-ordered shutdown after they were restarted earlier this year, a ruling that was upheld last Friday.

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.

Only two other reactors have restarted under the new regulatory regime, those at the Sendai plant operated by Kyushu Electric Power in southwestern Japan, Shikoku Electric Power expects to begin operations of its Ikata No 3 reactor in late July after receiving approval from the regulator, a spokesman has told Reuters.

Osaka-based Kansai Electric, which used to get about half of power supplies from nuclear plants before the 2011 disaster, says it needs to get reactors running to cut costs and improve its financial position.

It is facing competition from other suppliers after the government in April opened up the retail power market to full competition. ”

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