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Ikata reactor restarted despite lingering fears

August 13, 2016

EDITORIAL: Another nuclear plant restarted amid lingering safety concerns


Ikata reactor restarted despite lingering fears

The No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture was restarted Aug. 12, becoming the fifth reactor to be brought online under the stricter safety standards introduced in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The move followed the restart of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture and the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture. However, the two reactors at the Takahama plant have remained offline since March after the Otsu District Court ordered the operator to shut them down.

The No. 3 unit at the Ikata plant is now the only operating reactor in Japan that burns mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel, composed of plutonium blended with uranium.

But this reactor shares many of the serious safety problems that have been pointed out for the reactors at the Sendai and Takahama plants. It is impossible for us to support the decision to resume operations of the Ikata plant reactor without resolving these problems.

What is particularly worrisome about the Ikata plant is the anticipated difficulty in securing the smooth evacuation of local residents in the event of a serious accident.

The facility is located at the root of the Sadamisaki Peninsula, a 40-kilometer-long spear of land that juts westward into the sea with a maximum width of 6 km or so.

This narrow strip of land west of the plant is home to about 5,000 people.

The only land route for the emergency evacuation of local residents is a national highway that passes near the nuclear plant into inland areas.

Under the evacuation plan crafted jointly by the local governments in the region and the central government, local residents are supposed to be evacuated mainly by ship from ports in the peninsula if the highway becomes impassable because of an accident at the plant.

But many of the communities in the peninsula are located on slopes in coastal areas. They could be cut off from the rest of the peninsula if a landslide occurs.

There are seven radiation protection facilities within the town of Ikata, but four of them are located in designated landslide-prone areas.

People aged 65 or older account for more than 40 percent of the town’s population.

The municipal government has plans in place to support the evacuation of residents of each district. But residents say there is no way to secure evacuation of the entire town if multiple disasters occur.

People living in areas located between 5 and 30 kilometers from a nuclear power plant are supposed to take shelter in their own homes or public facilities, in principle, when a serious nuclear accident takes place.

But the series of earthquakes that rocked central Kyushu around Kumamoto Prefecture in April underscored anew the devastating effects of multiple disasters. The swarm of quakes included two registering a maximum intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale, which caused severe damage to buildings across wide areas of Kumamoto Prefecture.

Ehime Prefecture is likely to be shaken violently if it is struck by the predicted massive Nankai Trough earthquake.

But the prefecture is ill-prepared for such a gigantic quake, with the ratio of public facilities that are quake-proof in the prefecture being the third lowest in Japan. These public facilities are supposed to play a key role in disaster response scenarios.

Evacuation plans are designed mainly to cope with situations in the wake of a single nuclear accident.

At the very least, however, the central and local governments should give serious consideration to the possibility of a nuclear accident being triggered or accompanied by other disasters like an earthquake and a landslide, and evaluate whether the lives of local residents will be protected in such situations.

Satoshi Mitazono, the new governor of Kagoshima Prefecture who took office last month, has indicated his intention to ask Kyushu Electric Power to halt the two reactors at its Sendai plant in response to local anxiety that has been aroused by the Kumamoto earthquakes.

Shikoku Electric Power’s decision to bring the Ikata reactor back on stream despite the fresh safety concerns is deplorable.

Another sticky issue is how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

If the No. 2 reactor at the Ikata plant is also restarted following the No. 3 unit, the spent fuel pool will become full in six to seven years. But there is no prospect of building a new storage facility for spent fuel.

There is no practical way, either, to reprocess spent MOX fuel.

The utility, which covers the Shikoku Island, has apparently enough capacity to meet power demand during this summer too.

The company has estimated that restarting the reactor will boost its annual earnings by 25 billion yen ($247 million). But this offers no compelling case for bringing the reactor back online at this moment.

Electric utilities, the central government and local governments in areas where nuclear power plants are located should all stop seeking to restart reactors until they have first dealt with the raft of safety issues.



August 12, 2016

Shikoku MOX plant restarts amid outcry over fresh quake fears



Staff Writer


MATSUYAMA, EHIME PREF. – Shikoku Electric Power Co. restarted the Ikata No. 3 reactor Friday at its plant on the narrow Sadamisaki Peninsula in Ehime Prefecture as citizens groups sought injunctions in three different prefectures to turn it back off amid various safety concerns, including the viability of evacuations.

The reactor is the fifth to be switched back on since all of the nation’s atomic reactors were closed due to the March 2011 triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant following a mega-quake and tsunami.

However, a March decision by the Otsu District Court to place a temporary injunction on two Kansai Electric Power Co. reactors in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, left only two reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in operation. They were restarted a year ago.

The Ikata No. 3 unit is also the only reactor burning the mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel.

Shikoku Electric reported no problems with the restart Friday morning, saying it was expected to reach criticality by Saturday morning and begin generating and transmitting electricity by Monday. After a series of final checks, the utility plans to start selling reactor-generated electricity early next month.

But the reactor’s restart has not gone unchallenged. The Otsu District Court decision, which shut down Kepco’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors less than two months after they were restarted, has energized residents who opposed the Ikata restart. In light of the quakes in Kyushu earlier this year, many now fear a natural disaster could also damage the reactor, and that official evacuation plans for the slender peninsula could prove unrealistic.

Petitions seeking a temporary injunction on the Ikata reactor have been filed in the district courts of Matsuyama in Ehime, as well as Hiroshima and Oita, by people living relatively close to the plant. Matsuyama is about 60 km from Ikata and Hiroshima is within 100 km. Oita’s Saganoseki Peninsula is about 45 km away.

A temporary injunction from any one of the three courts would almost certainly mean Ikata No. 3 would have to shut down immediately. For this reason, anti-nuclear lawyers involved with the petitions remain hopeful the courts will do what politicians have not.

“The Otsu court decision to shut down the Takahama reactors sent a shock wave through the government and the utilities. Political measures including demonstrations are needed. But I’ve come to believe the best way to stop the restart of nuclear power plants is through legal means, such as filing lawsuits and requests for temporary injunctions,” Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer involved with the Matsuyama, Hiroshima and Oita petitions, said at a news conference in Matsuyama late last month.

The Otsu decision angered Kepco and senior corporate leaders in the Kansai region who fear it will spark a nationwide movement against nuclear power plants. Some are now pushing the government to establish a separate court presided over by judges with specialized knowledge, or to establish separate legal measures to review petitions by citizens’ groups targeting restarts in the hope of obtaining more favorable rulings.

“From the viewpoint of a stable energy supply, it’s necessary to reduce the legal risks as much as possible,” Kansai Economic Federation chairman and former Kepco Chairman Shosuke Mori said at his regular news conference last month.

Other pro-nuclear Kansai economic leaders support Mori’s call for legal changes.

“Why should the nation’s energy policy be impaired by a judge at a district court? I hope the law is quickly changed so this doesn’t happen,” said Kansai Economic Federation Vice Chairman and Hankyu Railways Chairman Kazuo Sumi after the initial Oita ruling in March.

In their request for a temporary injunction on the Ikata unit, citizens’ groups cite the fact that it lies about 5 km from the Median Tectonic Line, which runs from Kyushu to Honshu. They also say that evacuation plans in the event of a natural disaster that damages the plant could prove impossible if the roads along the narrow, landslide-prone peninsula hosting it collapse or are washed away by a tsunami.

Even officials who support the restart have stressed the need for better communication with the prefectural and central governments in the event of an accident that forces an evacuation.

“There are heightened concerns compared with the past, and we’ll strengthen the information collection system,” Ikata Vice Mayor Matabei Moriguchi said Friday after the restart.



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