4 Juin 2018
June 2, 2018
EDITORIAL: Giving new status to 30-km zones within nuclear plants
The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster provided graphic evidence of the lasting and far-reaching damage that can result when this technology goes askew.
Electric utilities that operate nuclear power plants have a duty to respond with utmost sincerity to safety concerns among local governments and communities, especially cities and towns within 30-kilometer emergency planning zones. Utilities should treat local governments within the zones, which are required to develop emergency evacuation plans under stringent new regulations introduced after the March 2011 emergency, equally as the governments in nuclear host communities.
Chugoku Electric Power Co. recently took the first step toward the start of operations of the Shimane nuclear power plant’s new reactor, whose construction was halted following the Fukushima catastrophe.
The utility, based in Hiroshima, asked the Shimane prefectural government and the Matsue city government to approve its application to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) for safety screening of the No. 3 reactor under the new regulatory standards.
The No. 3 reactor was close to completion when the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant went in a triple meltdown. Work to install the necessary safety measures is expected to finish in the first half of 2019.
This facility could become the first new nuclear reactor in Japan to start operation after the Fukushima disaster, an event that triggered tighter safety standards for nuclear plants.
The new reactor, if cleared for operation, will be in service until around 2060 under the principle that imposes a 40-year limit on the operational life of a reactor.
The reactor is part of a complex that has the distinction of being the only nuclear power plant located in the capital of a prefecture.
Within 30 km of the plant lie three other cities in Shimane as well as the cities of Sakaiminato and Yonago in neighboring Tottori Prefecture. Some 470,000 people live in the 30-km zone.
In 2011, authorities in Tottori Prefecture and the two cities signed an agreement with Chugoku Electric Power that commits the utility to put top priority on the safety of local residents in operating the plant.
These local governments have been demanding that the utility apply the procedures for obtaining consent for reactor operations from the Shimane and Matsue governments also to the local governments in Tottori Prefecture.
In April this year, the prefectural and municipal governments in Tottori formed a joint task force to assess the safety of the new reactor with the help of the utility.
Chugoku Electric Power’s move to seek the consent of only the Shimane prefectural government and the Matsue city government to start the process of bringing the reactor online has caused “considerable confusion” among the local communities in Tottori Prefecture, according to Tottori Governor Shinji Hirai.
“I feel bewildered” at the way the utility is going ahead with the plan, Hirai said with obvious and justifiable discontent.
Safety agreements between nuclear plant operators and local governments generally require utilities to secure the advance consent of the local governments when new reactors are built or important changes are made to existing facilities. In most cases, however, the scope of the local governments covered is limited to the prefectures and municipalities where the plants are located.
But an agreement was reached this spring between Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC), the operator of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture, and five surrounding municipalities that commits JAPC to seek approval from these municipalities within the 30-km zone before bringing its idled reactor back on stream. They include the city of Mito, as well as Tokai village, which hosts the nuclear plant, and the prefecture.
Some local governments around the Shimane nuclear plant are calling on Chugoku Electric Power to hold advance talks over the operation of the new reactor with all the six cities within the 30-km zone. The utility should treat all the local governments within the emergency planning zone like host communities.
When Kyushu Electric Power Co. moved to restart the No. 3 reactor at its Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture, four of the eight municipalities in three prefectures located within the 30-km zone were up in arms over the plan. But the procedures for the restart went ahead after the town of Genkai, which hosts the plant, and Saga Prefecture gave their consent.
Shimane Governor Zenbe Mizoguchi has indicated his intention to listen to the opinions of all the surrounding local governments, including those in Tottori Prefecture. The Shimane and Matsue governments plan to propose this approach to their respective local assemblies. The case of the Genkai plant should serve as a cautionary tale for these local governments.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 2