28 Décembre 2012
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said Dec. 27 it will recommend shutting down the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture if an active geological fault is found to run directly beneath the facility.
Shunichi Tanaka, NRA chairman, also told The Asahi Shimbun that the three-year timeline presented by the Abe administration is too short for safety screenings to be completed for all 50 nuclear reactors in Japan.
An NRA expert panel began a second session on Dec. 28 of on-site geological surveys at the Oi plant to decide whether a fault line cutting across its premises is active. Two reactors at the Oi plant are the only ones currently up and running in Japan.
Tanaka said he would use nonbinding "administrative discretion" measures to instruct Kansai Electric Power Co., operator of the Oi plant, to halt operations if the fault running beneath key equipment is found to be active.
The government's safety standards stipulate that no key component of a nuclear plant should be installed directly above an active fault.
The law on the regulation of nuclear reactors allows the issuance of a shutdown order in case of imminent danger.
However, Tanaka said it would be difficult to issue a legally binding shutdown order after the discovery of an active fault beneath an emergency water intake channel because that would be short of constituting "imminent danger."
He added that the Tsuruga nuclear power plant, also in Fukui Prefecture, will have to be decommissioned after an NRA expert panel found that an active fault likely runs directly beneath a nuclear reactor building.
Given the circumstances, he said safety screenings are impossible.
Tanaka acknowledged that a report has yet to be published and a formal conclusion has yet to be reached.
"We cannot enter safety screenings (that should precede a restart) if it is officially decided that (an active) fault runs directly beneath a nuclear reactor building," he said. "No power utility would want to hold on to an inoperable nuclear reactor forever."
Tanaka said it would be up to the discretion of Japan Atomic Power Co., the Tsuruga plant operator, to decide whether to decommission it.
The Abe administration, which formally took office on Dec. 26, said it plans to decide within three years whether operations can resume at each of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors. That means the NRA has to examine whether each one of those reactors meets stringent safety standards.
Tanaka said he did not believe the screening procedures could be completed within three years.
A written agreement presented Dec. 25 by the coalition government of Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito pledged to respect the decisions of the NRA.
"Restarts of nuclear reactors will depend on the NRA's decisions, based on expert knowledge, that places foremost priority on safety in line with international standards," the agreement read. [we shall see]
December 27, 2012
The new administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to steer Japan off the road to zero nuclear power, but with public trust in atomic energy at an all-time low, a new energy route that includes restarting nuclear reactors looks less than smooth.
The inclusion of Akira Amari as minister of state for economic and fiscal policy, and Toshimitsu Motegi as minister of economy, trade and industry in the new Cabinet has made the administration's intent clear: to get reactors back to feeding the power grid and, in the words of one senior official with the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), "providing a stable supply of electricity that is indispensable" to businesses.
The LDP's predecessor in government, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), had pledged to end nuclear power in the country by the 2030s, and besides two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi power plant, no halted nuclear reactors have gone back online since the beginning of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. With 48 of Japan's 50 reactors off-line, power companies' profits nosedived as they were forced to buy fuel for thermal power stations to make up for the lost generating capacity.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) -- operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant -- bumped its electricity rates up more than 8 percent on average on Sept. 1 this year to try and cope, while Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric Power Co. have both applied to the government for permission to raise rates starting in April next year.
The next step in TEPCO's business plan is a sequential restart of the seven reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture sometime after April -- a move the company has labeled a precondition for curing its balance sheet of its current bout of red ink. Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric, too, have included reactor restarts beginning July next year in their business plans. Putting off those restarts risks yet more rate hikes, posing a danger to the economic health of both businesses and households.
Restarts are, however, dependent on passing tough safety standards to be set by July 2013 by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), launched in September this year in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In addition to setting strengthened earthquake and tsunami countermeasure standards, the NRA is also expected to make power companies take measures against severe nuclear accidents. Even if the utilities fast-track new countermeasures, it's possible they will not be able to get reactors back online by next year's peak power consumption period in the summer.
Moreover, the NRA looks unlikely to approve the restart of reactors at two plants -- Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tsuruga station and Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s Higashidori plant -- after declaring it highly likely that there are active fault lines running beneath them.
"The basis of our judgment is scientific," NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a Dec. 26 news conference. "Whatever politicians have to say on the issue, it matters to us not at all."