Former chief of Fukushima probe criticizes reactor restarts — The Asahi Shimbun

” The leader of the Diet investigation into the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster blasted the Abe administration’s policies on restarting reactors, noting that proper evacuation plans are not in place.

“What are you going to do if a tsunami comes?” Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said at a June 12 meeting of the Lower House ad hoc committee for research of nuclear power issues. “How can you go (there) to rescue people if cars cannot move forward on roads?”

Kurokawa was referring to the restarts of the No. 4 and No. 3 reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture in May and June.

The reactors cleared the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety standards that were established after the accident unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said these standards are the strictest in the world.

But Kurokawa said, “I cannot accept such rhetoric.”

Kurokawa, also a professor emeritus of medical science at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, was selected as chairman of a third-party advisory body established by the ad hoc committee in May.

He and other experts of the advisory body responded to questions at the meeting of the ad hoc committee on June 12.

Kurokawa also raised questions about the rules for personnel at the NRA, the country’s nuclear watchdog.

In January, Masaya Yasui, an official of the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry, assumed the post of secretary-general of the NRA’s secretariat.

Kurokawa said he was concerned that an official of the economy ministry, which has promoted nuclear power generation, is now at the top of the secretariat.

Previously, a “no-return rule” was in place that prohibited employees of the NRA secretariat from returning to the economy ministry.

However, the Abe administration changed the rule to allow them to return to the ministry at bureaus not directly related to nuclear power generation.

Regarding the change, Kurokawa said, “The most important thing is to protect the no-return rule.” ”

by Shinichi Sekine, The Asahi Shimbun

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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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Former NRA boss calls for review of safety screening method — The Japan Times

” Japan needs to review its current method for screening nuclear plant safety, seismologist and former senior regulator Kunihiko Shimazaki said in a recent interview.

The current method risks underestimating the magnitude of possible earthquakes that may hit nuclear plants, Shimazaki, former acting chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said.

He said a review was needed on the method to calculate the design basis earthquake, or the maximum quake motion that can occur around a nuclear plant, which is currently part of the NRA’s screening procedures.

Shimazaki said that he confirmed the need for such a review after examining data on powerful quakes that hit Kumamoto Prefecture and other areas in Kyushu in April.

“The NRA has to be aware that the current screening procedures have shortcomings,” he said, adding it is “very dangerous to keep using the method.”

Before leaving the NRA in September 2014, Shimazaki was in charge of assessing quake and tsunami impacts as part of its nuclear safety screening process.

The current method risks underestimating design basis earthquakes when it is applied to vertical faults found mainly in western Japan, he said.

The design basis earthquakes for Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama and Oi nuclear plants, both in Fukui Prefecture, and Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture, should be recalculated based on a different method, he said.

The NRA should draw up a revised method by taking into account new data, including on strong tremors such as the Kumamoto quakes, Shimazaki said.

The No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama plant have passed the NRA’s safety screening. The NRA is expected to approve Kansai Electric’s request for extending operational periods at the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors beyond 40 years, a basic lifetime for nuclear reactors in Japan. ”

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Japan’s worst quake since 2011 seen delaying nuclear starts — Bloomberg

” Japan’s biggest earthquake in five years may slow a government plan to restart the country’s atomic fleet that was shuttered amid safety concerns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the triple meltdown at Fukushima.

A series of earthquakes, including a magnitude-7.3 tremor that struck about 119 kilometers (74 miles) from the Sendai nuclear facility on the southern island of Kyushu this month, destroyed hundreds of homes, snapped bridges and left at least 49 people dead. It has also revived an effort to halt the plants’ operations.

The events may delay Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of returning the country’s nuclear power plants to operation. About 60 percent of Japanese citizens oppose restarting reactors, according to a Nikkei newspaper poll from February, and the earthquake is intensifying pressure on the country’s nuclear regulator to vet safety rules.

“Nuclear is under a magnifying glass now, so even the smallest problem can create big delays,” Michael Jones, a Singapore-based gas and power analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. said in an e-mail. “Fukushima has changed everything, and earthquakes and volcanoes are only making things worse.”

Transport Disruptions

Trains and highways were damaged in the Kyushu earthquake and if there is a nuclear accident from another earthquake or volcanic eruption, evacuations may be difficult, Datsugenpatsu Bengodan, a group of lawyers working to wean Japan off nuclear power said in an April 19 statement. The group said Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai No. 1 and 2 reactors, which were the first to restart under post-Fukushima safety rules last year, should be shut.

An e-mail to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority outside of normal business hours wasn’t immediately answered.

Evacuation Procedures

“Given this is the largest earthquake in over a century in Kyushu that has caused significant damage to infrastructure, it could slow down the pace of restarts,” said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of Mathyos, a Tokyo-based energy consultant. “It may now be even more imperative that emergency evacuation procedures are thoroughly tested.”

A nuclear accident at Sendai would require the evacuation of about 5,000 people in the surrounding 5 kilometers and more than 200,000 would need to seek immediate shelter within a 5- to 30-kilometer radius, according to a local government simulation from 2014.

The NRA, Japan’s nuclear regulator, said on April 18 that it sees no need to shut the two Sendai reactors. A high court on April 6 upheld a ruling that the Sendai reactors can withstand seismic damage and don’t pose a risk to the surrounding area.

A local court issued an injunction in March preventing the operation of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors, questioning whether evacuation plans and tsunami prevention measures — which had been endorsed by the government — were robust enough.

The earthquake near Japan’s only operating reactors “may boost the nation’s anti-nuclear sentiment,” Joseph Jacobelli, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in an April 22 note. “Technical and political obstacles mean even those units approved for restart are returning at a snail’s pace.” ”

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*NPT and nuclear security risks exposed by secret plutonium shipment: NGOs — PanOrient News

Read PanOrient News’ well-researched article on the recent transport of 331 kg of weapons-grade plutonium from the port of the Japanese Tokai nuclear station in Ibaraki prefecture to be dumped at the Department of Energy Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, which plutonium will be added to SRS’s existing plutonium stockpile of 13 tons.

Kansai Electric begins fuel loading for nuclear restart — Kyodo News

” Kansai Electric Power Co. said Friday that it has started loading nuclear fuel into a reactor on the Sea of Japan following a court decision to lift an injunction against the move, paving the way for its restart in late January as the country’s third reactor to operate.

After the restart earlier this year of two reactors in southwestern Japan, while others remain offline in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the No. 3 reactor at the utility’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture would be the first to run on uranium-plutonium mixed oxide, or MOX fuel, if it begins operations as scheduled.

The utility is scheduled to insert a total of 157 fuel rod assemblies by next Tuesday, including 24 of MOX fuel, according to Kansai Electric.

The reactor along with the No. 4 at the same plant was allowed to resume operation by the Fukui District Court on Thursday.

The power company envisions reactivating the No. 3 unit sometime between January 28 and 30 and having it start power generation and transmission around Feb. 1, followed by the restart of the No. 4 unit in late February.

“We will put top priority on the safety of the work” for the restart, Kansai Electric President Makoto Yagi said at a press conference Friday.

Japan returned to nuclear power generation when Kyushu Electric Power Co. brought the two reactors at its Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture back online in August and October respectively.

The government is seeking to make up at least 20 percent of the country’s electricity using nuclear power plants by 2030.

The restart of Takahama’s two reactors will be “a step forward” toward the goal, Motoo Hayashi, the industry minister who is in charge of the energy policy, said at a separate press conference the same day.

Prior to the court decision, both reactors gained approval for resumption in February from the state’s Nuclear Regulation Authority under new safety regulations introduced after the nuclear meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The injunction issued by the court in April, however, banned the utility from restarting the units until it was lifted Thursday.

The Fukui governor on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for the company to restart the two units following approval by the local prefectural assembly and the mayor of Takahama.

The court’s Presiding Judge Jun Hayashi said in Thursday’s decision that he recognizes the rationality of the post-Fukushima safety regulations set by the nuclear regulator.

Hideaki Higuchi, presiding judge when the same court issued the injunction in April, said then the court could not see any credible evidence in the utility’s assumptions regarding earthquake risk and restarting the two reactors posed “imminent danger” to residents around the plant, about 380 kilometers west of Tokyo.

==Kyodo ”

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