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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Sendai restart leaves too many questions unanswered

August 12, 2015



EDITORIAL: Sendai No. 1 reactor must not become a model case for future restarts



The No. 1 reactor at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., was brought back online Aug. 11. It is the first facility to be reactivated in Japan after nearly two years of suspended operation of all reactors.

The Sendai reactor is also the first to clear new safety standards set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. Now that the Sendai reactor is back in operation, the government intends to reactivate all nuclear reactors that meet the NRA's safety requirements.

But the process by which the reactivation of the Sendai reactor was given the green light leaves numerous questions unanswered. For instance, serious doubts still remain about the NRA's risk assessment with regard to major volcanic eruptions. Deficiencies have been pointed out in the evacuation plans drawn up for a possible severe accident, and more than half of the residents of Kagoshima Prefecture are opposed to the reactor's reactivation. It is unclear which parties are ultimately responsible for the decision to put it back in operation.

We cannot accept this decision that not only leaves all these unresolved questions and doubts, but also goes against the will of the people. And we are adamantly opposed to the government's use of the Sendai No. 1 reactor as a model case of decision-making in favor of reactivation and piecemeal revival of the nation's reliance on nuclear power generation.


Prior to reactivating the Sendai reactor, the government established the nation's power source composition target for 2030 and set the proportion of nuclear power generation at 20 to 22 percent of the total. This level cannot be attained without building new nuclear reactors or extending the serviceable years of a good number of already old reactors.

Makoto Yagi, president of Kansai Electric Power Co. and chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, told a news conference in late July: "I understand that those numbers (set by the government) require the operation of many of the current 46 reactors (including three under construction)."

Quite clearly, the government and utility companies alike are set on returning to nuclear power generation.

Nuclear power generation is positioned as a "baseload power source," which is described as "a low-cost source of stable supply of electricity, which renders 24/7 operation viable."

But in advanced nations, the baseload concept itself is being phased out. The current trend is to maximize reliance on wind, solar and other sources of renewable energy, and position nuclear and thermal power generation as "regulating valves" for when power from renewable sources is insufficient.

Such a switch is made possible by power industry reforms.

In Europe, power transmission business is separated and kept independent from power generation business, but both are managed and operated in an integrated manner. As for satisfying demand for power generated by renewable energy sources that are prone to be affected by weather conditions, operations cover extensive areas and are kept flexible according to accurate weather forecasts.

In the days ahead, the key to success in the power industry is said to lie in technology for flexible supply control in keeping with fluctuations in demand.

Though belatedly, Japan has embarked on power industry reforms, and the last package of related laws have been enacted in the current session of the Diet. The reforms will proceed in three stages until 2020. It is hoped that Japan will be transformed into an energy society where various power source and service options, including power from renewable energy, will be available to consumers with utilities competing under fair conditions.


In such an energy society, there will no longer be regional monopolies that have supported nuclear power generation, nor the present billing system that enables utilities to slap their operating costs directly on consumers.

Nuclear power generation was said to be "inexpensive." But in recent years, the costs of operation and construction of facilities have been rising steadily worldwide.

Areva, a French multinational group and one of the largest nuclear plant makers in the world, had to be bailed out by the government when the bloating construction costs of new facilities drove it into dire financial trouble. And Japan's Toshiba Corp., which has been embroiled in an accounting scandal, is now paying dearly for having reinforced its nuclear department.

Japanese utilities are projecting 2.4 trillion yen ($19.18 billion) for the implementation of additional safety measures. In the days ahead, they will be forced to make further investments every time new measures become necessary.

When expenditures are added up--such as for subsidizing communities chosen for the disposal of nuclear waste and construction of a new facility, and for damages that will have to be paid in the event of an accident--it becomes clear that nuclear power generation is hardly cost-effective, and that this business is not viable in the new power generation and supply system. And more than anything, a majority of the Japanese people now want a "society that does not have to rely on nuclear power generation."


What the government needs to be doing now is definitely not to reactivate offline reactors one by one and bring nuclear power generation back as the mainstay of the power industry. The government's task should be to decommission older reactors and those with safety concerns although it may have to temporarily turn to nuclear power generation, while nurturing the renewable energy industry at the same time.

In terms of natural environment, Kyushu is one of the ideal regions.

In the meantime, the feed-in tariff system has been established for fixed-price purchase of power generated by renewable energy sources, and "local utilities" that play up regional features are debuting nationwide. While the current trend poses some problems, such as the tendency to rely too heavily on solar power and the need to review the purchase prices, momentum is definitely building up for greater reliance on self-supply energy sources that can also help curb global warming.

New projects require financial support for the time being, but once the infrastructure for ready access to the grid is firmly in place, there is every likelihood that renewable energy will become a cheaper and more stable source of electricity.

Of course, it takes time for society to diversify its energy sources and switch to relying mainly on renewable energy. Various problems are also bound to arise along the way. The public will have to be prepared to make some sacrifices, such as paying bigger electricity bills at times.

Still, the Fukushima disaster has taught us to fear nuclear power generation. And that is where we start in seeking a new energy society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 12



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