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Starting to halt Takahama plant after injunction

March 10, 2016

After injunction, work starts to halt reactor at Takahama plant




Kansai Electric Power Co. started shutting down a nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture on March 10 after a court issued an unprecedented injunction and questioned the effectiveness of the world’s “strictest” safety standards.

The Osaka-based utility plans to file an objection to the injunction or request a stay of execution of the order to suspend operations of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at its Takahama nuclear plant.

But the injunction issued by the Otsu District Court in neighboring Shiga Prefecture on March 9 took effect immediately, and the No. 3 reactor is expected to be brought to a complete halt around 8 p.m.

It was the first time a court in Japan has issued orders for an operating reactor to be taken offline.

“It is extremely regrettable,” Kazuo Kijima, chief of Kansai Electric’s atomic fuel cycle division, said at a news conference in Osaka on March 9. “It is totally unacceptable.”

The two 870-megawatt reactors had passed the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s new safety regulations that were imposed after the disaster unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.

The No. 3 reactor, which was brought online on Jan. 29, had started commercial operations on Feb. 26.

But technical trouble caused the No. 4 reactor to automatically shut down only three days after it was restarted on Feb. 26. Previously, a leak of radioactive water was found in the No. 4 reactor building.

The Otsu District Court focused on the overall safety of the plant before issuing the injunction.

Presiding Judge Yoshihiko Yamamoto said the utility failed to provide a convincing argument that it is fully prepared for the most powerful quake and tsunami that could hit the nuclear plant.

Specifically, the court concluded that the Takahama plant lacked a sufficient safety cushion to withstand maximum shaking of such an earthquake emanating from an active geological fault.

It said Kansai Electric’s assumption of the length of that fault was inaccurate.

To drive home the point that the utility was ill-prepared, the district court cited archives of a huge tsunami that struck the Wakasa region, where the plant is situated, following the Tensho earthquake in 1586.

The court also said Kansai Electric failed to offer an adequate explanation on how it would respond to a leak of coolant water from a quake-damaged storage pool for spent nuclear fuel at the plant.

The central government has been pushing for the restarts of reactors if they pass the NRA’s safety standards.

Kansai Electric, which relied on nuclear power for half of its electricity output before the Fukushima disaster, the highest ratio among regional utilities, had high hopes that the two reactors would turn around the company’s finances.

The two reactors at the Takahama plant were the third and fourth in the nation to go online under the NRA’s new rules that went into force in 2013.

However, the district court said the NRA’s regulations should be more comprehensive.

Judge Yamamoto noted that the specific causes of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have yet to be identified even five years after three of its reactors melted down.

“If we squarely face the fact that a disaster whose scope went beyond expectations has occurred, the new regulations should have been set based on the philosophy that an accident caused by oversight should not result in a disastrous situation,” Yamamoto said.

The court said it was “extremely concerned” that the NRA put in place its new regulations when efforts to unravel the full picture of what went wrong at the Fukushima plant were “only half-way through.”

“We hesitate to conclude that they (new regulations) serve as a basis for public welfare,” the court said.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka defended the regulations at a news conference on March 9.

“I do not believe that there are any flaws in them,” he said. “New regulations always pursue safety by incorporating the latest findings.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also appeared calm despite the court decision.

“Our policy to restart the reactors remains unchanged since they were judged to meet the world’s strictest regulations,” he said.

The court, however, stressed that the central government has a larger role to play to ensure the safety of people living near nuclear plants, such as taking the lead in drawing up evacuation plans in the event of a serious accident.

After the Fukushima disaster, new guidelines require local governments within a 30-km radius of a nuclear facility to prepare evacuation plans for an emergency.

“Broader regulations than the existing ones should be set, with an eye on such evacuation plans as well, and the central government is obliged to draw up them,” the court said.

The 29 plaintiffs from Shiga Prefecture live in areas 30 to 70 kilometers from the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture, which is home to 13 reactors.

Citing the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the plaintiffs requested the court injunction over fears that damage from a severe accident at the Takahama plant could go well beyond the 30-km zone.

Residents of Shiga Prefecture are keen to protect Lake Biwako, which covers one-sixth of the prefecture’s area.

The lake, the largest in Japan, supplies water for 14.5 million residents in the Kinki region, including Kyoto and Osaka prefectures.

Kenichi Ido, leader of a group of lawyers representing the plaintiffs, called the court decision “epoch making.”

“The impact of the ruling on other courts across Japan is significant,” said Ido, a former judge. “We could bring a halt to the operation of a nuclear plant even though Shiga Prefecture does not host one. The court made the decision because Japan experienced the Fukushima disaster.”

The court’s decision is the second to order Kansai Electric to suspend operations of the Takahama plant.

A similar injunction in April last year by the Fukui District Court was later rescinded by a different judge of the same court.


Takahama No.3 reactor halted on injunction



Kansai Electric Power Company has shut down a reactor at its Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, in accordance with a court injunction.

This is the first time in Japan that operating reactors have been stopped on a court decision.

Workers began placing control rods inside the No.3 reactor at 10 AM on Thursday to stop nuclear fission. Output was gradually reduced, and the reactor came to a halt at around 8 PM.

A district court issued an injunction on Wednesday ordering the plant's No.3 and No.4 reactors to be taken offline. The court decided that the operator has not offered an adequate explanation of how it would prevent or deal with accidents and other emergencies.

The No.3 reactor was restarted in January of this year.
Unit 4 went back online last month but shut down automatically 3 days later because of a glitch which is still under investigation.

The reactors must stay offline until the injunction is overturned.

The shutdown leaves just two reactors operating in Japan, both at the Sendai power station in Kagoshima Prefecture in the southwest.



Work begins to halt Takahama No.3 reactor



The operator of the Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, has begun shutting it down following a court injunction.

The Otsu District Court in neighboring Shiga Prefecture issued an injunction on Wednesday ordering the plant's No.3 and No.4 reactors taken offline.

The court said the operator, Kansai Electric Power Company, has not sufficiently explained the reactors' safety to local residents despite the high risks.

Kansai Electric began placing control rods inside the No.3 reactor at 10 AM on Thursday to stop nuclear fission. The operator suspended generating electricity at around 5 PM.

Output will gradually be reduced until it reaches zero at around 8 PM.

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