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Time to decommission Tokai No.2!

November 24, 2017



EDITORIAL: Aging Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant should be decommissioned




Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, seems doomed to be decommissioned given the strong doubts and practical difficulties surrounding the company’s plan to restart the reactor at the plant.


Japan Atomic Power plans to apply to the Nuclear Regulation Authority to extend the operating life of the idled reactor at the plant beyond the legal life span of 40 years in principle.


The currently offline reactor will reach the end of its legal life span in one year. The operator is seeking to persuade the NRA to make an exception of the reactor for bringing it back on line.


It has been estimated that the required safety measures will cost the company at least 170 billion yen ($1.52 billion). In an unusual move, the nuclear safety watchdog has told Japan Atomic Power, which is on a fragile financial footing, to come up with a workable plan to raise the funds to finance the measures.


With the local communities and governments around the plant struggling to develop required plans for emergency evacuations, there is strong skepticism about the feasibility of the company’s plan to restart the reactor.


Since there is little chance of the company’s other reactors being restarted, the fate of Japan Atomic Power hinges on whether the Tokai No. 2 plant will be allowed to come on stream again.


But that doesn’t justify taking it as a given that the company will get the green light for restarting the reactor.


Japan Atomic Power, the major electric utilities with major stakes in the company and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates the power industry, should carefully reassess the future of the company without assuming that the reactor will start running again.


The 40-year legal life for nuclear reactors is an important rule to reduce the risk of accidents involving aging reactors. It was introduced following the disastrous accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.


The operational life can be extended by up to 20 years if approved by the NRA.

When the law was revised, however, the government said such extensions would be highly exceptional cases.


But Kansai Electric Power Co.’s applications for life extensions for its three aging reactors have all been approved.


If the Tokai No. 2 plant is added to the list, the rule will move closer to becoming a dead letter.


There are no special reasons for restarting the old reactor, such as a serious risk of a power shortage.


Japan Atomic Power’s plan should not be given a go-ahead simply to help the embattled company.


The Tokai No. 2 plant is located at the northern tip of the Tokyo metropolitan area. Some 960,000 people live within 30 kilometers from the plant, more than in any other 30-km radius of a nuclear plant. Local governments located within the zone are required to develop evacuation plans.


It is obviously difficult to secure safe evacuation routes, facilities to accept evacuees and the means to transport them for the entire 30-km zone around the plant.


None of the 14 municipalities that are subject to the requirement has worked out an evacuation plan.


The outlook for local government support for the plan is also dismal.


The government of Ibaraki Prefecture and the mayor of Tokai intend to base their decisions on local public opinion as to whether to give their consent to the plan.


Recent Asahi Shimbun surveys of local voters found that opponents to the plan far outnumbered supporters.


Five other cities around the plant are demanding the consent rights similar to those given to Tokai in order to take part in the decision-making process.


Japan Atomic Power and the major utilities that own the firm should confront these realities.

The utilities that are under contract to buy electricity from Japan Atomic Power continue paying more than 100 billion yen of basic fees in total every year even though the company currently generates no power to sell with all its reactors out of operation.


It should not be forgotten that the money comes from the electricity bills paid by consumers.


It has been proposed that Japan Atomic Power should serve as a vehicle for the consolidation of the power industry driven by the decommissioning of aged nuclear reactors.


Instead of simply shelving the problem, the parties involved should accelerate their efforts to map out a viable future for the company.


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