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Aging reactors 20-year extension fuels concerns

License renewal of aging reactors betrays promise, fuels concerns

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on June 20 approved 20-year operating extensions for two reactors at the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, both of which had been in service for more than 40 years.

Kansai Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, plans to restart the No. 1 and the No. 2 reactors as early as autumn 2019 after taking the required additional safety measures.

Following the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, Asahi Shimbun editorials have been arguing for phasing out nuclear power generation in two to three decades.

We believe high-risk or aging reactors should be decommissioned while allowing the minimum number of necessary reactors to continue operations.

The NRA’s decision for the two aging reactors has raised serious concerns that license renewals could be approved for many reactors judged deemed capable of operating profitably by utilities. We are opposed to the decision.

One source of worry is the stance of the nuclear safety watchdog itself.

One challenge at the Takahama plant is making electric cables less vulnerable to fires. The NRA has accepted Kansai Electric Power’s plan to cover cables with a fire-resistant sheet in places where it is difficult to replace them with flame-retardant cables.

The NRA has also allowed the utility to delay required earthquake-resistance tests that involve the actual shaking of important equipment within the containment vessels of the reactors.

The regulator has given the go-ahead to the company’s plan to carry out such tests after taking the additional safety measures.

The licenses for reactor operations can be renewed only once for up to an additional 20 years. But this provision was introduced to prevent emergencies, such as serious power crunches.

The NRA itself described its permission for extended reactor operation as an “extremely exceptional” measure and “hard to obtain.”

An even more serious problem is the stance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government toward nuclear power generation.

In response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Democratic Party of Japan-led government revised the law to set 40 years as the lifespan of nuclear reactors.

The revision was made amid broad public consensus on lowering the nation’s dependence on nuclear power.

Initially, the Abe government, inaugurated in December 2012, also repeatedly promised to reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear power generation as much as possible.

But the Abe administration has since gradually switched its position to maintaining nuclear power generation. It has even designated nuclear power as one of the core energy sources for the nation.

The administration’s recent refrain is: “Reactors that have been judged safe by the NRA will be restarted.”

The NRA, for its part, emphasizes that its mandate is limited to assessing the safety of individual reactors. The existence of an appropriate and workable evacuation plan is not a factor checked in the watchdog’s safety inspections.

The NRA has also avoided directly addressing the risks involved in the concentration of nuclear power plants in certain regions, such as Fukui Prefecture, where the Takahama plant is located.

In March, the Otsu District Court issued an injunction to suspend operations of the No. 3 and the No. 4 reactors at the Takahama plant, which had just been restarted.

The court’s decision reflects one important lesson from the Fukushima meltdowns: One key factor behind the accident was the tradition of leaving policy decisions about nuclear power regulation entirely to experts.

The revision to the law to establish the 40-year legal lifespan for nuclear reactors was based on an agreement among the DPJ, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, now the ruling party, and the LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito.

The government must not be allowed to betray its promise to the public to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power while using the NRA as a cover to obscure its policy shift.

The Abe administration should offer a clear and detailed explanation about its position on the 40-year life rule.

NRA gives two-decade extension to 40-year-old Takahama reactors; residents’ reactions mixed

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Monday approved an additional 20 years of operation for two aging reactors on the Sea of Japan coast that will become the first such units to be rebooted under new rules introduced after the Fukushima disaster.

The atomic regulator green-lighted Kansai Electric Power Co.’s plan to restart its No. 1 and No. 2 reactors — both more than 40 years old — at the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.

But the reboot is unlikely to happen soon, with the company eyeing an October 2019 timetable for completing the final screening measures.

The rules, which were tightened after the 2011 triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, in principle set the maximum operational life span for nuclear reactors at 40 years. However, the regulations also stipulated that operations can be extended by an additional 20 years if the NRA approves.

Meanwhile, Takahama’s two other reactors — No. 3 and No. 4 — remain idle after the Otsu District Court rejected a bid Friday by Kepco to lift an injunction preventing their restart.

The utility has condemned the court’s move.

Kepco had been closely monitoring the condition of the two aging reactors in a stricter manner than regular checkups since December 2014 as it sought to obtain approval for extending their life spans.

After confirming there were no abnormalities, the utility applied for an NRA screening in April last year.

The utility had been required to complete three procedures by July 7 to obtain permission for restarting units No. 1 and No. 2. While they had already passed a test for compatibility with the new rules and received approval for a construction plan detailing equipment design, the only remaining test had been of the reactors’ anti-degradation measures.

In that screening, regulators asked that the utility address the potential for long electrical cables to catch fire and how it would cover the containment vessels with concrete in the event of a serious accident. NRA chief Shunichi Tanaka said he hopes the power company will conduct inspections more often than required to ensure the facilities are safe.

The utility will spend ¥200 billion ($1.9 billion) to improve the reactors’ safety over the next 3½ years. They are expected to be restarted sometime after fall 2019.

Reactors 1 and 2 will thus reach the end of service in November 2034 and 2035, respectively.

Residents had mixed reaction to the decision.

The town of Takahama “has lived with the nuclear power plant for a long time. I hope the (reactors’) resumption will help revitalize the local economy,” a woman in her 20s said, though admitting she is worried about their safety.

While Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose welcomed the decision, he said he will ask the regulator and plant operator for detailed explanations of the safety steps to respond to residents’ concerns.

Kansai Electric said in a press release that it believes permission for reactors to run beyond the 40-year limit heralds the restart of more of Japan’s aging reactors.

The government is pushing to bring dozens of reactors back online after the Fukushima disaster prompted a nationwide shutdown, as it looks to atomic power to provide 20 to 22 percent of its electricity by 2030.

The government will need a dozen aging reactors running beyond the four-decade limit to meet its goal, experts say, given the difficulty of building new reactors now that Japan’s long-held nuclear safety myth has been shattered by the triple meltdown in Fukushima.

The No. 1 reactor began operating in November 1974, while the No. 2 reactor did so in November the following year. Both reactors have been suspended since regular checkups in 2011


June 21, 2016 - Posted by | Japan | , ,

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