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Close Tsuruga for good?

Panel to conclude Tsuruga nuclear reactor sits above active fault



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A panel under the Nuclear Regulation Authority is set to finalize a report Wednesday saying that a geologic fault running beneath a reactor in western Japan is active, raising the possibility of the unit's permanent shutdown.

The move is expected to lead NRA commissioners to decide that the No. 2 unit of Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tsuruga plant does not meet the conditions for undergoing a safety assessment that the country's reactors need to clear to resume operations in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi complex disaster.

Japan Atomic Power will still have a chance to seek a review of the panel's judgment if it can provide new findings, but it is doubtful that the company can present convincing data disproving the activity of the fault in question.

In quake-prone Japan, nuclear power plant operators are not allowed to build reactors and other facilities with important safety functions directly above faults that could move in the future.

The panel, consisting of NRA commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki and four academics from outside, had agreed at its first gathering in December after a field survey that the No. 2 reactor is likely to be sitting above an active fault.

But it spent five more months on further discussions amid criticism from Japan Atomic Power and some ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers that the panel had not sufficiently listened to the arguments of the plant operator.

Japan Atomic Power officials have called on the panel to wait until June for more data to come up, but Shimazaki said during the panel's previous meeting in April that an assessment at the present moment will be compiled at the next meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

Based on a large-scale trench excavation investigation conducted at the two-unit nuclear complex in Fukui Prefecture, the panel is expected to conclude that a zone of crushed rock called D-1, running beneath the No. 2 reactor, is an active fault.

The D-1 is feared to move together with a confirmed major active fault called Urazoko, which is located only about 200-300 meters away from the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor buildings.

Japan has been reviewing the activity of fracture zones existing beneath nuclear facilities following the Fukushima crisis, which was triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The Tsuruga plant is one of the six facilities the NRA has decided to inspect from that aspect.

The panel's envisioned assessment, meanwhile, is expected to add pressure to the financial standing of Japan Atomic Power, which is unable to sell electricity to its major shareholders such as Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co. because all of its three reactors are now offline.

Restarting Japan Atomic Power's two other reactors -- the No. 1 unit at the Tsuruga plant and one reactor at the Tokai No. 2 plant in Ibaraki Prefecture -- is also unlikely to be easy due to the oldness of the facility and due to local opposition.

The company is currently surviving on such revenues as basic fees from major utilities that have contracts to receive electricity, but the utilities are also struggling amid increasing fuel costs for thermal power generation to make up for the loss of nuclear power.

Of the 50 commercial reactors in Japan, only two operated by Kansai Electric are online.


Panel to conclude reactor sits on active fault



An expert panel at Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority is to conclude that one of the country's nuclear reactors sits on an active fault.

The panel is to release a final report on its 6-month probe into the Number 2 reactor at the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan.

The panel said in its draft report in January that the fault may be active.

The plant operator, Japan Atomic Power Company, has presented data and photos to disprove that the fault is active. But the panel rejected the evidence as unconvincing.

The government's guidelines ban plant operators from building reactors right above active faults due to concerns about damage from earthquakes.

If the plant operator cannot show data that overturns the panel's argument, the Number 2 reactor could be scrapped. It is currently offline for safety inspections.

The operator says it will conclude its own survey into the fault by June. The panel says it may review the report if the operator comes up with new findings.

The panel's probes into suspected active faults cover 6 nuclear power stations. Tsuruga is the first for which a final report will be released.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority plans to decide what to do with the Tsuruga reactor as early as next week.

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