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Decommissioning: Both sides of the coin

 March 18, 2015

Mothballing nuclear reactors a mixed blessing for local communities





Having lived for decades in close proximity to nuclear reactors that brought a windfall of benefits, local host communities reacted with mixed feelings to decisions to decommission a handful of aging facilities.

Mihama in Fukui Prefecture learned on March 17 that Kansai Electric Power Co. had decided to mothball the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the Mihama nuclear power plant because they had reached the end of their service life.

The town, with a population of 10,000, reaped huge tax grants from the central government over the years as compensation for hosting the facility.

Shizuo Shoyama, 62, lives about a kilometer away from the Mihama plant.

"I really don't want the company to simply say 'With decommissioning, this means goodbye,'" he said.

Shoyama spent around 40 years doing repair and maintenance work at the plant until he retired two years ago. The company he worked for has close ties to Kansai Electric Power.

Construction on the No. 1 reactor began when Shoyama was attending junior high school. Looking back on that period, he said there was a proliferation of small inns where workers stayed, as well as a sharp increase in tourists to the region.

"I hope Kansai Electric Power will think about what can be done for the future economic development of our community, with which it has enjoyed such a long period of co-existence and co-prosperity," Shoyama said.

Others in Mihama hope the decommissioning will serve as a catalyst to move away more fully from a dependence on nuclear power generation.

Teruyuki Matsushita, a former member of the Mihama town assembly who now operates a nature facility, said the decommissioning presented an opportunity to develop the local economy so the community does not have to depend on nuclear energy.

In this regard, Matsushita, 66, said local farm produce and seafood should be more fully utilized. He began supplying local produce to an "izakaya" bar chain in Tokyo from 2014.

"If we had a strong local industry, there would have been no need to accept nuclear plants and live with the dangers they pose," he said. "It's time to devote our efforts to community building once again."

The mayor of Mihama, Jitaro Yamaguchi, met March 17 with Hideki Toyomatsu, an executive vice president at Kansai Electric Power, to ask for the company's continued assistance in providing local employment.

The city of Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture, where the No. 1 reactor at the Tsuruga plant operated by Japan Atomic Power Co. will be decommissioned, also is heavily dependent on nuclear plants for its economic well-being.

Akiko Otani, 72, operates a hotel in Tsuruga, and is concerned that the community will face a serious decline as the population decreases.

When Japan Atomic Power submitted applications in 2004 for the construction of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Tsuruga plant, Otani negotiated a loan of 140 million yen ($1.2 million) to construct a hotel annex. However, reactor construction was put on hold after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

"The nuclear plant is our lifeline," she said. "I pray that the company will build something that will provide employment to many people."

Local companies that relied on sales to the Tsuruga plant are now looking for new markets on the assumption the facility will be out of operation for a long period or decommissioned.

For example, the Kiko group, which sells machinery and tools, depended on nuclear plants for about 60 percent of its sales until the triple meltdown at the Fukushima facility.

After the nuclear accident, company chairman Hidemune Komori, 67, decided to review that dependence on nuclear plant-related sales and set up a subsidiary in Vietnam, which is buying Japanese nuclear technology, as part of a plan to increase sales to foreign companies.

"Our company management will be thrown into disarray unless we develop more options," he said.

In Saga Prefecture, the news of the decommissioning decisions was generally welcomed.

Hideo Kishimoto, the mayor of Genkai, which hosts the Genkai nuclear plant, said: "It is the right decision. I will ask Kyushu Electric Power to ensure the decommissioning work is carried out in a safe and thorough manner once it gets under way."

Kyushu Electric Power decided on March 18 to decommission the No. 1 reactor at the Genkai plant.

Yoshikazu Tsukabe, the mayor of Imari, Saga Prefecture, had called for consultations with neighboring municipalities before any decision is made on resuming operations at nuclear plants. Imari lies within a 30-kilometer radius of the Genkai plant.

In a statement welcoming the decommissioning decision, Tsukabe noted that aging reactors pose a higher risk of accidents.

Saga Governor Yoshinori Yamaguchi weighed in by saying, "It is the thinking of the prefectural government as well as my own opinion that dependence on nuclear energy should fundamentally be lowered as much as possible."

He said the decommissioning decision will help reduce Saga Prefecture's dependence on nuclear energy.



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