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Genkai 3 & 4 cleared for restart... despite opposition

Dossier 8

November 9, 2016

Japan regulator clears more reactors for restart amid opposition




Japan’s nuclear regulator cleared another pair of reactors on the southernmost island of Kyushu for restart despite a growing chorus of opponents who object to any resumption of nuclear operations.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority approved a preliminary report on Wednesday that says Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai Nos. 3 and 4 reactors in Saga Prefecture meet post-Fukushima safety rules, one of the biggest hurdles an operator must clear. A 30-day comment period must be held before any final approval.

Genkai’s approval is another small step for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has backed a policy of restarting the nation’s reactors to lower electricity rates, shore up the economy and boost global competitiveness. However, the looming threat of legal action and local opposition has put the fate of the entire restart process in doubt. Japan aims to have nuclear power account for as much as 22 percent of its energy mix by 2030, compared with more than a quarter before Fukushima and a little more than 1 percent now.

“This news will provide a boost for Japan’s nuclear industry, but progress to restart reactors still lags behind the initial hopes of incumbent utilities,” James Taverner, an energy analyst at IHS Markit Ltd., said by email. “Japan’s policymakers and regulators continue to have a challenge to carefully balance industry needs and public safety concerns.”

Last year, Kyushu Electric restarted the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at its Sendai station, becoming the first utility to bring a reactor back online since new safety rules were brought in following the Fukushima disaster.

Almost 51 percent of the citizens of Saga Prefecture, where the Genkai plant is located, oppose its restart, while 39.3 percent approve, according to a regional newspaper poll conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2. The same poll last year showed that 45.3 percent of respondents were against the restart, while 46.8 percent approved.

Restarting both units would boost net income by ¥12 billion ($117 million) a month, Naoko Iguchi, Tokyo-based spokeswoman for the utility, said by phone. The Sendai Nos. 1 and 2 reactors provided a ¥33 billion boost to net income for the six months ended Sept. 30, Masakatsu Tanaka, an official in Kyushu Electric’s Tokyo office, said last month.


The Genkai reactors, with a combined capacity of 2.36 gigawatts, are expected to restart in the fiscal year ending March 2018, the Nikkei reported last month, citing President Michiaki Uriu. The company would consider lowering power rates once four units are online, Tokyo-based Kenji Kawabata, the company’s deputy regional director, said last year.

Almost all the country’s reactors remain shut because of the new safety regulations and public opposition following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Only two of Japan’s 42 operable reactors are producing power commercially as of Oct. 6, when Kyushu Electric shut its Sendai No. 1 unit for maintenance.

Sendai’s return to service may be delayed due to the recent election of a new governor in Kagoshima who strongly opposes its operation. Local government approval — including endorsement from the governor — is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before returning plants to service.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. fell the most in almost four months on Oct. 17 after Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor of Niigata the previous day. Yoneyama opposes Tokyo Electric’s plan to restart its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear facility located in his prefecture.


Genkai nuke plant's No. 3, 4 reactors pass screening for possible restart




The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has given a de-facto green light to reactivation of the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Genkai Nuclear Power Plant in Saga Prefecture, bringing the total number of reactors that have passed the nuclear watchdog's screenings to 10 across Japan.

At a regular meeting on Nov. 9, the NRA put together a draft document indicating that the Genkai plant's No. 3 and 4 reactors met the new safety criteria introduced in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The document will be officially approved following a one-month public comment period.

In order for the two reactors to be restarted, plant operator Kyushu Electric Power Co. will need to clear two more screenings on specific facility designs and other elements, as well as a pre-operation inspection. Actual reactivation is expected to come sometime after fiscal 2017.

Kyushu Electric applied for the safety screenings of the two reactors in July 2013, around the same time it filed a similar application to reactivate the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, which are now online.

However, the NRA prioritized the Sendai plant screening as a model case for accelerating the entire safety review processes, putting the Genkai reactor screening on the back burner. The fact that the utility had changed an emergency response base's structure from a seismic isolation design to a quake-resistant design also contributed to the prolonged screening on the Genkai complex.

There are few active faults in areas around the Genkai plant that could trigger major earthquakes, and the maximum projected seismic acceleration is 620 gal and the maximum tsunami height is projected at about 6 meters -- smaller than for other nuclear complexes.

Meanwhile, there are 17 remote islands within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant, with a total population of around 20,000. While a nuclear accident evacuation plan is required to be mapped out for sites within that area, challenges remain for the islands as it would be difficult for residents to evacuate in the event of multiple disasters, such as a nuclear plant accident coupled with tsunami. Furthermore, measures for radiation protection at evacuation shelters on those islands haven't been improved yet.

The nuclear plants that have heretofore passed NRA screenings are: the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Sendai plant, the No. 1 through 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, Kansai Electric's No. 3 reactor at the Mihama plant in the same prefecture, and Shikoku Electric Power Co.'s No. 3 reactor at the Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture.

Of those, five reactors -- the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Sendai plant, the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Takahama plant and the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata plant -- have been reactivated. However, the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Takahama complex and the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai plant have been suspended due to a provisional injunction handed down by the Otsu District Court and a regular inspection, respectively. As a result, only two of those reactors are currently online.




NRA takes steps to restart Genkai nuclear plant



Japan's nuclear regulator has taken steps to restart the Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture, western Japan. The restart will happen next summer at the earliest.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority presented its draft assessment of safety measures for the plant's No.3 and No. 4 reactors at a meeting on Wednesday.

The draft effectively approves safety measures set forth by the plant's operator, Kyushu Electric Power Company. Genkai is the 5th commercial nuclear plant in Japan to reach this stage.

The agency says the utility's measures meet new government requirements introduced after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in March 2011.

The measures include raising the maximum magnitude of a possible earthquake and making emergency command centers quake-resistant.

The regulator also says effective plans are in place to prevent meltdowns and damage to containment vessels in case of severe accidents. The No. 3 reactor uses mixed-oxide fuel, which includes plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel.

The NRA will hear public comments for 30 days before formally approving the assessment.

Kyushu Electric must receive approval for equipment designs, pass inspections and obtain local consent before restarting the reactors.


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