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Kansai Electric restart "grossly irresponsible"

May 19, 2017


EDITORIAL: Kansai Electric restarts reactor as lights dim on nuclear power


Kansai Electric Power Co. restarted the No. 4 reactor at its Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture on May 17, producing electricity through atomic energy for the first time since March 2016.

The Osaka-based utility also plans to bring the No. 3 reactor at the plant back online in early June.

The Osaka High Court has paved the way for the move by overturning an injunction banning the operations of the two reactors issued by the Otsu District Court in Shiga Prefecture.

Furthermore, Kansai Electric intends to start operating the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at its Oi nuclear plant, also in Fukui Prefecture, in autumn. These two reactors have effectively passed the regulatory inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

But none of the fundamental problems concerning these reactors has been resolved, including how to secure the safety of local residents during serious accidents or how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

We feel compelled to express our opposition anew to any reactor restart before clearing up these problems.

Some 180,000 people live within 30 kilometers of the Takahama plant. The local governments concerned as well as the central government have worked out plans for widespread evacuations in the event of a serious accident at the plant.

But an evacuation drill conducted last summer exposed some serious shortcomings in these plans. It revealed, for instance, the possibility that certain areas could become isolated if an emergency occurs under poor weather conditions that make it impossible to use helicopters and ships.

There are also concerns that many people may try to flee in cars when a serious accident occurs, and getting caught in traffic jams and failing to escape the disaster.

Of the facilities to provide shelter for evacuees from areas around the Takahama plant during nuclear accidents, a total of 126 are located in areas deemed vulnerable to such natural disasters as landslides, according to a survey by The Asahi Shimbun.

As many as 15 nuclear reactors are located in Fukui Prefecture, including those that are set to be decommissioned.

No effective action has been taken to prepare for simultaneous accidents at more than one of these reactors.

There is no reliable plan, either, for tackling complicated challenges related to spent nuclear fuel.

The pools to store spent nuclear fuel within the nuclear plants are fast approaching their capacity.

Kansai Electric has pledged to the Fukui prefectural government to decide on the location of an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel by around 2020. When it made the promise to choose the location of the storage facility, the utility had in mind the Kansai region around Osaka, which consumes most of the power generated at the nuclear plants in the prefecture.

But strong local concerns about the safety of the envisioned facility in the Kansai region have totally blocked the progress of the selection process.

The reactors at the Takahama plant will burn mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxide, in so-called pluthermal (plutonium thermal) operations.

Since spent MOX fuel cannot be handled even at the fuel reprocessing plant being built in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, it has to be stored in the spent fuel pools for the time being.

Kansai Electric has stuck to its plan to continue operating its nine reactors, including three units that have been in service for more than four decades.

But it is behaving in a grossly irresponsible manner by restarting reactors without solving the raft of serious problems.

Six years have passed since the devastating accident occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The power supply in this nation has become stable despite nationwide reactor shutdowns thanks to broad power-saving efforts across the country and the effects of the liberalization of the power market.

Kansai Electric claims that restarting reactors will improve its earnings performance, enabling it to lower electricity rates.

Besides such economic benefits, however, there are few strong reasons for rushing to bring offline reactors back online again.

The municipal governments of Osaka and Kyoto, which are among the leading shareholders of the utility, plan to again submit proposals calling on the company to end its dependence on nuclear power to the scheduled shareholders' meeting in June.

Customers of the utility still have critical views about its plan to resume operations at its nuclear plants.

The outlook of its nuclear power-dependent business structure is dismal. The company should make serious efforts to find a way to wean itself from atomic energy.


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