Read Kathleen Araujo analysis of Japan’s energy policy. She is an assistant professor at Stony Brook University, specializing in national decision-making on energy-environmental systems, and science and technology policy. This article is copyrighted by The Diplomat and distributed by Tribune Content Agency. You can read the article via The Japan Times.
” Japan’s nuclear watchdog gave the green light Feb. 12 to restart two idled reactors at a plant in Fukui Prefecture, adding impetus to government efforts to bring nuclear facilities back online.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority approved enhanced safety measures submitted by Kansai Electric Power Co. for the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at its Takahama plant, a key hurdle for their restart.
Of the 48 commercial reactors that went offline after the Fukushima nuclear crisis unfolded in March 2011, only two other reactors–at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture–have received safety clearance.
Kansai Electric will now work toward completing other procedures, such as obtaining final NRA go-ahead and the backing of local governments to restart the reactors.
The reactors at both the Takahama and Sendai plants are not expected to go back online before summer, as their operators still need to obtain approval of detailed construction plans, as well as operational and accident-response manuals.
Also, on-site operational checks that follow the final NRA approval take one to two months to complete.
Kansai Electric submitted its application to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama facility after new safety regulations took effect in July 2013.
The NRA approved the draft permission for the plant’s safety measures last December and solicited opinions from the public over 30 days. It examined 3,615 opinions and made some corrections to the draft before adopting a final version.
The nuclear watchdog also took into consideration Kansai Electric’s plan to use the reactors for plutonium-thermal power generation, which uses mixed-oxide fuel comprising plutonium and uranium.
It also gave the approval on condition that the utility enhances the plant’s tsunami resistance and designates part of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor buildings as emergency headquarters in the event of a serious incident.
In satisfying the latter condition, Kansai Electric will need to resubmit safety measures for the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors if it seeks to restart the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.
With the Abe administration pushing to bring reactors that pass the NRA’s safety standards back online, Kansai Electric believes it will be able to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors after obtaining consent from Fukui Prefecture and the city of Takahama, which host the plant.
Prefectural authorities will make their decision after the utility has satisfied other requirements.
However, the restart remains uncertain, as some neighboring prefectures within 30 kilometers of the plant–which are required to map out disaster-evacuation plans–have demanded a greater say in the move.
Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, parts of which are included in the zone, have negotiated with Kansai Electric to give them the right to be more involved in the decision-making process.
The NRA said it will provide explanatory briefings on its decision to approve the safety measures at the Takahama plant for local governments that ask. ”
Updated Sept. 22, 2014, CBS News: watch 2:11 news spot
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Posted Sept. 17, 2014, The New York Times: ” All of Japan’s 48 operable nuclear reactors — the source of about one-third of the country’s electricity — were shut down after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. Three years later, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has certified two reactors at the Sendai power plant on the southern island of Kyushu meet the safety standards imposed after the accident.
It could be months before either reactor is turned on. The company that owns the reactors will make that decision after getting local consent. Even so, the authority’s certification is a major step in the government’s effort to restart the nuclear industry. The authority was created two years ago to restore public confidence in nuclear oversight. The government gave it responsibility to set stricter safety standards and to determine whether reactors met them.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to restore nuclear power as part of his plan to revive the country’s sputtering economy. The public is divided. There is enthusiasm among some locals who see the plants as a source of jobs, but skepticism, according to polls, in the population as a whole. Fukushima showed that absolute safety of nuclear power is a dangerous myth, especially in earthquake-prone Japan. The Sendai plant might have cleared stricter earthquake and tsunami standards, but it is also located in an active volcanic area, about which the new safety standards say little.
In addition, the authority’s assessment did not address the issue of evacuation in case of an accident, which is the responsibility of local governments.
A simulation conducted found that it could take as long as 28 hours to evacuate 90 percent of the residents from within a 30 kilometer radius of the Sendai power plant. Local governments lack the capacity and expertise to conduct a major evacuation, and local leaders have asked the national government to take a more active role in forging evacuation plans. The chaos that ensued from the Fukushima accident should be an obvious reminder of the need for such plans in the event of a major accident. ”