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

source

Advertisements

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

source

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

source

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. ”

source

*Editorial: 40-year rule for nuclear reactors on verge of being a dead letter — The Asahi Shimbun

” The 40-year lifespan for nuclear reactors, established after the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, is now in danger of being watered down to irrelevance.

The rule requires the decommissioning of aging reactors, starting with the oldest, for a gradual, carefully controlled process of phasing out nuclear power generation in this country.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on April 20 formally decided that the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which have been in service for over 40 years, meet new nuclear safety standards introduced after the devastating 2011 accident.

This is the first license renewal for a reactor that has been in operation for more than four decades under the new standards.

If they pass the remaining regulatory inspections concerning technical details by the July deadline, the reactors will likely continue to generate electricity for two more decades.

The 40-year lifespan provision was introduced through a revision to the law after the Fukushima disaster.

Just one service life extension of up to 20 years is allowed, but only as an “extremely exceptional” measure.

This exception was made to avoid a shortage of electricity. But concerns about any serious power crunch have virtually dissipated thanks to a marked rise in levels of power and energy conservation in society.

The NRA’s formal decision to extend the life of the two aging reactors came amid a series of earthquakes rocking central Kyushu around Kumamoto Prefecture which have been described by the Japan Meteorological Agency as “a deviation from the rules extracted from past experiences.”

Many Japanese are concerned that the quakes could affect Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai nuclear plant in neighboring Kagoshima Prefecture. The NRA’s decision to grant an exception to the rule so quickly could have the effect of relaxing the safety standards and deepening public distrust of the government’s nuclear regulation.

The Abe administration is leaving all licensing decisions on individual reactors entirely to the NRA. But it has mapped out a long-term energy supply plan based on the assumption that the service life of reactors will be extended.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who repeatedly pledged to lower Japan’s dependence on nuclear power as much as possible, has been changing his stance little by little without announcing any clear policy shift.

The NRA’s mission is to enhance the safety of nuclear plants from a scientific viewpoint.

But the way the nuclear watchdog assessed the safety of the reactors at the Takahama plant has raised questions about its appropriateness. The NRA has, for instance, allowed Kansai Electric Power to delay required quake resistance tests.

If it has scheduled its assessment work in a way to ensure that the July deadline will be met, the agency has got its priorities completely wrong.

A troubling situation is now emerging where decisions on whether to decommission specific reactors are effectively left to the utilities that operate them. As a result, these decisions are being based primarily on whether extending the life of the reactors will pay.

Operating many nuclear reactors in Japan, a small country with a large population that is highly prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters, inevitably entails a large risk.

This grim reality was the starting point for the reform of the nuclear power policy prompted by the Fukushima accident.

If the government sticks to the policy of maintaining nuclear power generation, the burden on society, including the costs of disposing of nuclear waste, could increase over the long term.

There is a clear global trend toward raising energy self-sufficiency through efforts to develop renewable energy sources.

A transition period may be necessary. But the only policy that makes sense is to shut down reactors steadily over a period of years.

The 40-year rule is one of the key principles of this policy. The government should remember this fact.

–The Asahi Shimbun, April 21 ”

source

Japan restarts fourth atomic reactor since 2012 moratorium — The Japan Times

” Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 4 reactor in Fukui Prefecture on Friday became the nation’s fourth to be restarted since 2012 and the first to burn MOX, a mixed-oxide fuel that contains plutonium.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Kepco President Makoto Yagi said safety would remain the top priority and that the utility would continue to promote safety standards beyond what was legally required.

The startup came nearly a week after a radioactive water leak was discovered at the reactor’s auxiliary building on Feb. 20. Kepco halted restart preparations while it repaired the leak, saying it did not pose a danger to the environment.

The utility said earlier this week the leak was caused by a loose pipe valve and could be repaired without affecting the restart schedule, which called for rebooting the unit by the end of this month.

Under Kepco’s schedule for the restart process, the No. 4 reactor is expected to start generating electricity by Monday afternoon and reach full power a few days later. Once the Nuclear Regulation Authority gives final approval, and assuming there are no last-minute technical problems, the plan is to have it back online and selling electricity from late March, just before the end of fiscal 2015.

The restart of Takahama No. 4 comes about a month after the nuclear power plant’s No. 3 reactor was restarted. Along with two reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai plant, which went back online last August, they comprise the four reactors that have been restarted since beefed-up nuclear safety standards took effect in 2012.

In addition to No. 3 and No. 4, which are at least 30 years old, Kepco also wants to restart Takahama Nos. 1 and 2, both of which are over 40. It hopes to run them for up to two decades. Despite concerns about the increased probability of accidents at the aged plants, their restart moved a step closer to reality on Wednesday, when the NRA said additional safety systems Kepco installed to extend the reactors’ life spans met its standards.

The next step will be soliciting public comment, and then further permission from the NRA is required for what would be the first-ever extensions in Japan of reactors over 40 years old.

Before that happens, Kepco will seek final permission from the mayor of Takahama and the governor of Fukui Prefecture for the restart, which could be a lengthy process. The utility may also find itself forced to deal with public and political concerns in surrounding Kansai prefectures like Shiga and Kyoto, where safety concerns about the aged reactors are strong. ”

by Eric Johnston

source