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Restarts ignore safety issues

November 28, 2017


EDITORIAL: Oi nuclear plant gets green light despite lingering safety concerns




Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa has announced his approval of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s plan to restart two reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.


Nishikawa’s consent has cleared the way for the utility to resume the operation of the idled Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the plant. The company plans to bring the two reactors back online early next year.


Some 159,000 people live within 30 kilometers from the plant. The local governments involved are legally required to prepare plans for emergency evacuations of these residents.


At Kansai Electric Power’s Takahama nuclear plant, which is within the 30-km zone and located 14 km to the west of the Oi plant, the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors have been operating since May and June this year.


But there is no evacuation plan that takes into account the possibility that serious accidents may occur simultaneously at the two plants.


Oi will be another nuclear plant to come on stream with an important safety issue remaining unresolved.


We find it impossible to support the utility’s plan.


Kansai Electric has decided to seek a 20-year extension of the operational life of three reactors that have been in service for more than 40 years--the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at the Takahama plant and the No. 3 unit at its Mihama plant, also in Fukui Prefecture.


The company may also opt to continue operating the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at the Oi plant, which will turn 40 years old next year.


That means the dangerous concentration of nuclear facilities in areas around Wakasa Bay in the prefecture will continue, at least for the time being.


It is assumed that in the event of a serious nuclear accident, most of the local residents living around these plants will flee the areas in their cars.


Evacuation drills that have been conducted so far have raised concerns that the limited evacuation routes can be clogged with fleeing vehicles. It is also feared that some areas could be cut off in harsh weather conditions.


Multiple accidents occurring at neighboring nuclear plants would cause crippling confusion among local residents.


At the very least, it is necessary to work out evacuation plans that can deal with all conceivable situations and make them widely known among local residents.


Kansai Electric and the central government are guilty of behaving in a grossly irresponsible manner by proceeding with the plan to restart the reactors without such plans. But the local governments that have supported the plan should also be accused of irresponsibility.


Local governments close to the region are worried about the implications of the plan.


The governor of Shiga Prefecture has said there is “no environment for granting consent” to the plan.


But Kansai Electric has refused to grant any local government other than Fukui Prefecture and the municipalities where the plants are located the right to consent to its plan to restart the reactors.


The pools to store spent nuclear fuel at the utility’s nuclear power plants are approaching their capacities.


Earlier this month, Shigeki Iwane, president of the Osaka-based utility, pledged to offer a proposed alternative site next year for building an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel outside the prefecture.


But many of the local governments in areas that consume electricity supplied by the company have already expressed their intentions to refuse to accept such a facility.


It is by no means clear whether Kansai Electric can find a site for building the envisioned storage facility.


The firm plans to burn mixed oxide fuel (MOX), made from plutonium recovered from used fuel mixed with depleted uranium, at its Takahama plant under the so-called “plu-thermal” system of power generation.


The company has said it will explore possibilities of also adopting this approach at its Oi plant.


But the government’s plan to reprocess used MOX fuel has yet to get off the drawing board.

In other words, spent MOX fuel needs to be stored at the individual plants, at least for the time being.


All these problems and issues are common to many other nuclear plants in Japan and have been pointed out repeatedly for years.


But the operators of nuclear plants, the central government and most of the local governments of areas that are home to nuclear plants have all remained reluctant to make serious efforts to tackle them.


We are deeply concerned about the situation, where a growing number of reactors are being brought back online while serious safety concerns remain to be addressed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 28


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