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Where is Gov't roadmap on ending reliance on nukes?

September 27, 2013


Editorial: Chubu Electric Power should reconsider reactivating Hamaoka nuclear plant



Chubu Electric Power Co. reportedly intends to apply with the nuclear power regulating agency for a safety inspection of its Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Shizuoka Prefecture by the end of this fiscal year, in preparation to restart the idled power station.

The utility suspended operations at the atomic power plant shortly after the outbreak of the crisis at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, following the strong urging of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Since resumption of operations at the plant is highly risky, the power company should rather consider decommissioning the complex.

Chubu Electric Power is considering applying for safety inspections of the No. 4 reactor at the Hamaoka plant to restart the unit ahead of its idled No. 3 and 5 reactors. Its No. 1 and 2 reactors are set to be decommissioned. The company cannot restart the No. 4 reactor until October 2015, because it needs to implement additional safety measures.

Nevertheless, the company intends to hastily apply for safety inspections because its increasing reliance on thermal power stations has resulted in a sharp rise in fuel expenses. The utility estimates that it will suffer from a net loss in the business year ending in March 2014 for the third consecutive year. To make up for its increasing losses, the company plans to raise its electricity charges sometime around April next year. Under these circumstances, the Chubu Electric Power board has apparently deemed it indispensable to restart the Hamaoka plant in order to improve its profitability.

However, the conditions of its site have posed a unique danger to the power station. When he urged Chubu Electric Power to suspend operations at the power station, then Prime Minister Kan explained that he considered the huge impact that a serious accident at the Hamaoka nuclear plant could have upon Japanese society as a whole. His explanation is rational.

The plant is situated just above the focus area of a powerful earthquake feared to be triggered by the Nankai trough -- and it could be hit by a massive tsunami if one were to be generated by such a temblor. Furthermore, there is a major industrial district near the power station, and the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train line and the Tomei Expressway -- two main transportation arteries between eastern and western Japan -- also run nearby. Should a serious nuclear accident occur at the plant, it could cause extremely serious damage to neighboring areas alone. Moreover, such a disaster could divide the Japanese archipelago, dealing a serious blow to the livelihoods of all members of the public, as well as to the industry as a whole.

Even if the nuclear plant's operator implemented various safety measures, it would be difficult to overcome the risks involved with the facility being situated in such an area. The city assembly of Makinohara, situated within 10 kilometers from the Hamaoka plant, has adopted a resolution demanding that the power station be permanently shut down unless its safety is guaranteed. It is expected to be difficult to gain consent from the Shizuoka Prefectural Government, as well as nearby municipalities, for reactivation.

Although business performance improvements are certainly something that company executives should think about, Chubu Electric Power board members should reconsider whether resumption of operations at the Hamaoka plant will truly lead to improvements in its business performance.

Under the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage, electric power companies are liable for damages from any accident at nuclear plants that they operate. Since such responsibility is too heavy for a single private company to fulfill, however, even Tokyo Electric Power Co. -- the largest company in the industry -- has been placed under state control following the outbreak of the Fukushima disaster. Therefore, it makes no rational sense for Chubu Electric Power executives to consider restarting the Hamaoka plant.

Behind Chubu Electric Power being so desperate to restart the Hamaoka plant is that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is leaning toward approving reactivation of idled nuclear reactors without showing a future vision concerning Japan's nuclear power policy. The government needs to show a road map toward ending Japan's reliance on nuclear power, and put its utmost efforts into urging power companies to shut down dangerous nuclear plants.

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