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Kyushu Electric begins fueling second Sendai reactor

Kyushu Electric Power Co. said Friday it was loading fuel into the second reactor at its Sendai nuclear power plant, bringing it a step closer to a planned mid-October restart.


The No. 2 reactor at the two-unit plant will be the second nationwide to secure a restart since regulators imposed tighter safety requirements on the industry following the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Kyushu Electric reactivated the No. 1 unit at the complex on Aug. 11, which marked a revival of nuclear power generation in Japan after a two-year hiatus.

On Friday, the utility began inserting a total of 157 fuel rod assemblies into the No. 2 reactor — a process that is expected to take about four days to complete.

The government identifies nuclear power as a key electricity source. It is promoting the restarting of idled reactors even though anti-nuclear sentiment remains strong among the public.

However, the outlook for the resumption of other nuclear reactors remains uncertain due to hurdles such as the need for prolonged safety screenings by the regulator.

Kyushu Electric expects its earnings to improve by ¥15 billion a month when the two units are online, potentially putting it into the black this business year for the first time in five years.

Source: Japan Times


September 11, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

INSIGHT: Failing to see dangers of nuclear power right under one’s nose

Fifty-three months after the fateful nuclear disaster, the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture has become the first in Japan to resume after all were taken offline for safety inspections.

But the restart callously disregards the lives of so many people who were uprooted from their irreplaceable ancestral land, jobs, families and friends by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.

Inspections of nuclear facilities certainly became more stringent after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But that is no guarantee of their safety. An “unforeseeable” event may occur at any moment, and the cost will be too tragically enormous for anyone to grasp.

Why does the government not want to face up to that fact in earnest? And what about the public, which is allowing the government to move in that direction? While I was furious about these issues, I had the chance to attend a preview of a movie. Seeing it was like getting smacked up the side of the head.

Titled “Tenku no Hachi” (The Big Bee), the action epic, which features an act of terrorism on a nuclear plant, is based on a work of fiction by Keigo Higashino, a best-selling author.

To my surprise, the work both fully and scrupulously presented all the major problems of nuclear power generation that came under the public spotlight after the Fukushima disaster, such as the vulnerability of spent nuclear fuel storage pools, the fictional nature of the safety myth about nuclear power and the merciless way nuclear plants are being forced on depopulated communities in exchange for subsidies.

The original book was written 20 years ago.

Higashino has commented on the work as follows: After his initial plan for it, he spent five years conducting a lot of research on the issue. He was filled with confidence when he finished writing the novel, but received no reaction at all. He thought that, obviously, his work was being ignored on purpose.

If somebody was purposefully “ignoring” the work, who was it?


I encountered the issue of nuclear power generation for the first time 27 years ago, when I was a reporter based in The Asahi Shimbun’s Takamatsu bureau in Kagawa Prefecture.

An “output modulation test” was staged at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture.

A nuclear reactor continues to generate electric power at constant levels day and night, so there is a nighttime surplus of electricity. The test was conducted to raise and lower output levels to enhance efficiency.

Opponents of nuclear power generation reacted angrily to what they argued was a “dangerous” experiment. Thousands of people arrived from all parts of Japan to stage a boisterous protest outside Shikoku Electric’s head office in Takamatsu on the day of the test.

A senior colleague of mine, who had been engaged in a student movement, appeared excited, as he said he was seeing a protest for the first time in a long while. However, local residents gave a chilly reception to the abrupt emergence of the hippie-like band of protesters, which was an uncommon sight.

“What are we supposed to do when all these outsiders suddenly show up and tell us this and that?” went the typical refrain.

I was, frankly, also fed up with the protesters.

The general thinking at the time was: “Japan has great technology. Speaking of possible accidents won’t get you anywhere. After all, modern life is impossible without nuclear power. ”

The anti-nuclear agenda was an unrealistic argument being made by only a few, and was less than catchy as far as news reporting was concerned.

No sooner did I write a halfhearted article about the protest than I returned to covering the police beat–making morning and evening calls to the homes of police detectives in a desperate bid to learn about hidden cases they were pursuing.

That was the way to scoop the competition and enhance my standing at the newspaper. I never attempted, then or afterward, to look into the dilemma of nuclear power generation, although I would have had access to, if only I had sought, a trove of public documents and other materials.

I didn’t even know how many nuclear reactors Japan had, and in which parts of the country, when I was confronted by the Fukushima disaster.

If our eyes are clouded and we are only eager to read the situation and act smartly, we don’t see anything even if something important is hanging right under our noses or if hints are tossed out in our direction.

We use the phrase “nuclear village” to refer to a community of people who rely on benefits generated by the nuclear power industry, which actually represents a major national project. It is exactly those people that created the safety myth and ended up causing the latest disaster. Higashino may have had the nuclear village in mind as the culprit for ignoring the presence of his book.

After all, I was also possibly a member of the nuclear village. I relied on the safety myth as an excuse for looking away from the sorrow and dilemma of those whom nuclear plants were being forced upon, taking the convenient availability of electric power for granted and continuing to scoff at a deluge of alarms.

I was part of the group of people who ignored Higashino’s work, which he had produced with all his might and competence.


One phrase has long stuck in my mind.

I visited a community last year that lies about a 10-kilometer radius from the disaster site. Its deserted landscapes that were frozen in time and were silently tumbling away appeared so eerie that a lump formed in my throat as I realized the exorbitant price of an affluent life.

I blurted out to a local resident who was guiding me around, “Can you forgive Japan for moving to restart its nuclear reactors, oblivious of a disaster of this magnitude?”

The resident remained silent for a while and then muttered, “If nobody changes, nothing will probably ever change.”

Will I be able to change? Will I be able to keep myself separate from the popular sentiment of the time, refuse to conform to the general trend, look at what I should look at and say what I should say?

Source: Asahi Shimbun

September 8, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Plant operator to reactivate another reactor

The operator of Japan’s only active nuclear power station plans to prepare to restart a second reactor at the plant.

Kyushu Electric Power Company on Friday told the Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, of its plan to start putting fuel rods into the Number 2 reactor of the Sendai plant in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima on September 11th.

The company says loading the 157 units of fuel rods into the facility will take 4 days.

NRA officials are to then inspect emergency equipment and procedures for handling severe accidents. If no problems are found, the utility plans to reactivate the reactor in mid-October, aiming at starting commercial operations in mid-November.

The firm restarted the plant’s Number 1 reactor on August 11th. The reactor is to undergo final checks by the NRA next Thursday and, if it passes them, become the first in Japan to supply electricity in 2 years.

The 2 reactors are the first to meet regulations introduced after the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011.

Source: NHK

September 5, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Sendai nuclear plant operator set to plug leaks in 5 cooling system pipes

SATSUMA-SENDAI, Kagoshima Prefecture–The operator of the recently reactivated Sendai nuclear power plant here said it had pinpointed the sites of leaks that forced a postponement of full reactor operations.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. said it detected tiny cracks in five narrow pipes that carry seawater used to cool steam. The pipes are part of the steam condenser at the No. 1 reactor, which resumed operation on Aug. 11.

Output will be maintained at 75 percent of capacity, while the utility carries out checks for further holes.

Kyushu Electric was expected to release a final report on the glitch on Aug. 25. At the same time, it said fully restored reactor operations will be postponed from the scheduled date of Aug. 25.

The regional utility detected a tiny amount of seawater leaked into one of three condensers in the secondary cooling system of the reactor, which has an output of 890 megawatts, on Aug. 20.

The seawater was flowing in the condenser, a device that converts steam used in power generation to water by cooling it, and became mixed with the secondary cooling water that does not contain radioactive materials.

Kyushu Electric suspended operations of one of the two water circulation channels through the condenser at issue and inspected narrow pipes forming the system by passing an electric current through it.

Technicians found miniscule holes in five of 13,000 pipes they had inspected as of 10 a.m. on Aug. 24. After inspecting all the pipes, the workers will repair the faulty bits.

Kyushu Electric said the seawater was removed with a desalination device and operations at the No. 1 reactor were not hindered.

The reactor was restarted earlier this month for the first time since it was shut down for a periodic inspection in May 2011. Opponents of the plant have voiced safety concerns

Source: Asahi Shimbun

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Seawater leak found at Sendai nuclear plant

The operator of the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, says it found seawater used to cool steam has leaked from some pipes.

The trouble occurred at a condenser for the plant’s No.1 reactor last Thursday. Officials at Kyushu Electric Power Company found elevated salt levels in the machine.

The condenser uses seawater to turn the steam from the power turbine back into water. The reactor has 3 condensers, and each one is equipped with 26,000 thin pipes to carry seawater.

Utility officials have been checking these pipes. They say they found cracks in 5 pipes in one condenser and that seawater had leaked from them.

The officials stopped the flow of seawater by putting plugs in the 5 pipes. They are now checking the other tubes. The utility firm says they will keep running the reactor.

The trouble occurred 9 days after the operator restarted the reactor on August 11th. It was the first to go back online under new regulations introduced after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.

The utility was due to raise the reactor’s power output to 100 percent on Tuesday. But the problems are expected to delay the scheduled work by about one week.

Source: NHK

August 25, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Sendai nuclear plant halts output increase

The operator of Japan’s only activated nuclear power plant says it will delay ramping up power output due to reactor equipment trouble.

Kyushu Electric Power Company says an alarm went off on Thursday afternoon indicating trouble with a condenser at the No. 1 reactor of the Sendai power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture. The condenser turns steam from the power turbine back into water. Neither the steam nor the water is radioactive.

The utility says water in one of the reactor’s 3 condensers had higher than normal salt concentrations.

Kyushu Electric officials say a small amount of seawater that is used for cooling steam appears to have entered the condenser, possibly through holes in the intake pipes.
They say the salt is being removed while one system within the condenser is halted for inspections. A condenser has 2 systems.

Kyushu Electric says the other condensers are working normally, and that power generation and transmission will continue.

The utility was due to raise power output from 75 percent to 95 percent on Friday, before achieving full capacity on August 25th. It now expects a delay of about one week.

The operator restarted the reactor on August 11th at the Sendai nuclear power plant.

It was the first reactor to go back online under new regulations introduced after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. 

Source: NHK

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Kyushu delays increasing output at Sendai nuclear plant after cooling system problems detected

KAGOSHIMA – Kyushu Electric Power Co. said Friday it will delay planned increases in electrical output from the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture as seawater is believed to have entered into a reactor cooling system.

The company planned to bring the recently reactivated reactor up to full capacity on Tuesday. But this will now be delayed as it will take about a week to fix the problem, officials from the utility said.

A small amount of seawater is believed to have flowed into one of the three condensers in the reactor’s secondary cooling system, the officials said. Condensers turn steam into water by cooling it, after the steam runs power generation turbines.

But there should be no problem in continuing the reactor’s operations as the salt can be removed with the aid of desalination equipment, the officials added.

The level of electric conductivity, which is monitored to check water conditions, rose Thursday afternoon at an outlet of a condensate pump used to circulate secondary coolant water.

Kyushu Electric checked the water quality and confirmed an increase in salt content.

Each condenser has some 26,000 tubes inside that are used to pipe seawater around for cooling. Kyushu Electric suspects that holes have opened on such tubes, causing seawater to enter into the condenser.

The company will seal any tubes found to have holes, the officials said.

In Japan, similar problems have occurred about 50 times in the past, but the latest case was the first at the Sendai power plant. In the past, Kyushu Electric experienced two cases at the No. 1 reactor at its Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture in 1997 and 1999.

The output at the Sendai plant’s No. 1 reactor, restarted on Aug. 11, reached 50 percent of capacity last Sunday and 75 percent on Wednesday. The company had planned to raise output to 95 percent Friday.

The reactor is the first in Japan to run under strict new safety standards introduced in July 2013 following the meltdown accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was wrecked in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The reactor’s restart also brought to an end the total absence of active reactors in Japan that had become a feature since September 2013, when Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture suspended operations for routine safety checks.

Some nuclear experts have said reactors could face severe safety problems because they have been mothballed for such a long period of time.

Source: Japan Times

August 21, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | 3 Comments

Japan nuclear utility says no special precautions over volcano

Japanese utility Kyushu Electric Power said on Monday that it was monitoring activity at a volcano near its Sendai nuclear plant, but did not need to take any special precautions after authorities warned of the risk of a larger-than-usual eruption.


TOKYO: Japanese utility Kyushu Electric Power said on Monday that it was monitoring activity at a volcano near its Sendai nuclear plant, but did not need to take any special precautions after authorities warned of the risk of a larger-than-usual eruption.

The reactor is the first to be restarted under new safety standards put in place since the meltdowns at Fukushima in 2011.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and much of Japanese industry want reactors to be switched on again to cut fuel bills, but opinion polls show a majority of the public oppose the move after the nuclear crisis triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.

The possibility of a significant eruption of Sakurajima, located about 50 km (30 miles) from Sendai, is a reminder of the volatile geology of Japan, which has 110 active volcanoes.

“We are not currently taking any particular response,” Kyushu Electric spokesman Tomomitsu Sakata said by phone.

“There is no impact in particular to the operations” of the Sendai plant, Sakata said. “We will continue to pay close attention to information from the Japan Meteorological Agency.”

The 890-megawatt-reactor had reached 50 percent of its output by Sunday and the operator expects full power to be achieved around Aug. 24, Sakata said.

Critics of the nuclear industry say that new safety measures are insufficient, particularly for plants such as Sendai, which is located near five giant calderas, crater-like depressions formed by past eruptions, with the closest one about 40 km away.

The precautions by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority for volcanic eruptions were “wanting in a number of important respects” and did not meet international standards, said John Large, chief executive of Large & Associates, a nuclear engineering consultancy.

Large wrote a report this year on the Sendai plant’s ability to withstand being hit by volcanic ash and has testified in court about the issue.

Sakurajima is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes and erupts almost constantly. There was a risk of larger than usual eruption, an official at the Japan Meteorological Agency said on Saturday.

“With Kyushu’s volcanoes clearly more active, Sendai should be shut immediately,” said Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director at activist group, Green Action, claiming there was no viable evacuation plan for the plant.

The Meteorological agency raised the warning level on the peak, about 1,000 km southwest of Tokyo, to an unprecedented 4, for prepare to evacuate, from 3.

Seventy seven residents who live within a 3 km radius of the craters have been evacuated, an official said on Monday.

Source: Channel News Asia

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Japanese volcano alert issued just miles from newly reopened nuclear reactor

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Japan’s weather agency issued a warning to thousands of residents in Kagoshima that the likelihood of the eruption of a nearby volcano was extremely high.

Officials have raised their alert to its second highest level after it detected a spike in seismic activity in a volcano on Saturday near the offshore volcano Sakurajima, Agency France Presse reported.

They have warned an evacuation of the city of just over 600,000 people may be necessary.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency said: “The possibility for a large-scale eruption has become extremely high for Sakurajima.”

It warned residents to exercise “strict caution” and prepare for evacuation.

An official told Sky News: “There is the danger that stones could rain down on areas near the mountain’s base, so we are warning residents of those areas to be ready to evacuate if needed.”

It comes as a nuclear reactor 50 kilometres (31 miles) away was switched back on for the very first time on Tuesday after it was closed in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Critics had warned that the reopening of the Sendai plant, the first in Japan’s renewed nuclear programme, was premature and Japan’s nuclear reactors are still vulnerable to natural disaster.

In October last year, the meterological agency warned that another volcano, Ioyama, near to Sendai plant was at risk of an eruption.

Japan is on the so called “Ring of Fire” along the Earth’s tectonic plates where earthquakes and volcanos are thought to be more common.

According to the agency there are more than 100 active volcanoes in Japan making it one of the most seismological volatile places on earth.

The last major eruption of Sakurajima was in 2013 where an estimated 63 people were killed.

Source: The Independent

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August 18, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , , | 2 Comments

Sendai plant begins producing electricity after nearly 2 years of nuke-free nation

sendai 14 aug 2015Plant workers applaud as the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai nuclear plant starts

electricity generation and transmission on Aug. 14.

SATSUMA-SENDAI, Kagoshima Prefecture–Marking the end of 23 months of a nuclear power-free Japan, the Sendai nuclear power plant began generating and transmitting electricity on Aug. 14.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. activated the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai plant on Aug. 11, to become the first nuclear reactor brought back online under new safety regulations instituted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The nation had been without nuclear power since September 2013.

At 9 a.m. on Aug. 14, utility workers connected an electrical generator with power cables from the plant’s central control room. The workers applauded when it was confirmed that the reactor began power generation and transmission for the first time in more than four years.

In a statement released the same day, Yoichi Miyazawa, the minister of trade and industry, said the start of generating and transmitting power at the plant “represents an important step forward to achieving a well-balanced energy mix and a more stable supply of electricity.”

The output from the reactor was expected to reach 30 percent of its full capacity of 890,000 kilowatts on Aug. 14, and will be raised gradually to reach full power generation in about 10 days.

The reactor is expected to begin commercial operations in early September unless the NRA detects safety problems during its final inspection.

Michiaki Uriu, Kyushu Electric Power president, said in a statement that the company will continue its efforts to improve safety at the plant with “determination to prevent an accident similar to the one at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from occurring.”

“We will gradually increase the output while closely monitoring the condition of the plant,” he said.

Kyushu Electric officials said the utility will proceed cautiously with operation of the No. 1 reactor as its operations had been suspended for a periodic inspection in May 2011.

It will be the first time that electricity generated at a nuclear plant will be supplied to households and businesses since the No. 4 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture went offline in September 2013.

Kyushu Electric, which relied on nuclear energy for about 40 percent of its power supply before the Fukushima disaster unfurled, plans to restart the No. 2 reactor at the Sendai plant in mid-October.

It has also applied for NRA safety screening to resume operations of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at its Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture.

Preparations for restarts are progressing at the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of Kansai Electric’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture and the No. 3 reactor of Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture.

The restart of the Sendai plant is likely to give momentum to efforts by the electric power industry and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to restart idle nuclear reactors nationwide.

But municipalities located near nuclear power plants have yet to map out effective evacuation plans for people in local medical and welfare facilities in the event of nuclear accidents.

A shortage of buses and other transportation modes to evacuate residents remains unsolved, while it also is unclear if utility companies can effectively shut down reactors when a Fukushima-level accident takes place at a nuclear plant.

Opinion polls have shown that more Japanese are opposed to the reactor restarts than those who support them.

Source: Asahi Shimbun

August 14, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

VOX POPULI: Trickery ensures nobody gets blamed if nuclear restart goes wrong

The Bay of Pigs Invasion of April 1961, undertaken by the United States to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba, ended in dismal failure. It left a stain on the administration of President John F. Kennedy, which was still only in its third month.

Kennedy is said to have been reluctant to go ahead with this campaign. But he accepted responsibility for the failure and said at a news conference, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

This famous Kennedy quote drips with sarcasm. When something goes right, everyone wants to claim credit. But when something goes wrong, nobody comes forward to assume responsibility.

I am probably not the only person who was reminded of this quote by the appalling irresponsibility of the people involved in the new National Stadium project.

And there is also the matter of the reactivation of the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai nuclear power plant operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. In taking the first step back to nuclear power generation, the parties concerned left their own responsibilities completely vague, perhaps in order to dodge criticism from people opposed to nuclear power generation, or as a precaution just in case something goes wrong later.

Kyushu Electric Power is primarily responsible for restarting the reactor, but it was the government that gave the green light.

The government stresses that Japan has “the most stringent safety requirements (for nuclear reactor operation) in the world.” But the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the nation’s nuclear watchdog, says that “accidents can happen even if the safety requirements are met,” and that it withholds “judgment on whether reactors should be restarted or not.”

There are just too many questions that remain unanswered.

In a collusive relationship, it is easy for everyone to practice obfuscation to escape responsibility. The Fukushima disaster of March 2011 was evidence of the government’s failed energy policy. It also destroyed the “safety myth” of nuclear power generation. The grave responsibility of the political, bureaucratic and academic communities should have been thoroughly scrutinized then, but the matter was never really pursued.

As a result, many of the helpless and innocent residents who had to leave their hometowns are still living in “exile” today.

After one year and 11 months of zero nuclear power generation nationwide, electricity generated by nuclear energy will start reaching consumers again Aug. 14. Electricity is electricity, no matter what the source. Where it comes from is irrelevant so long as it delivers cool air from the air-conditioning unit and turns lights on.

But if we unthinkingly go back to a society where nuclear power generation is simply taken for granted, we would be wasting the bitter lessons we learned from the Fukushima disaster.

Source: Asahi Shimbun

August 14, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Why was the Sendai nuclear power plant restarted?

Two of Japan’s reactors—Units 1 and 2 of the Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Sendai nuclear power plant—have just restarted, and Unit 1 should begin generating electricity on August 14. Like all other Japanese nuclear power plants, Sendai was shut down after the events at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011, in which an earthquake, a tsunami, egregious design mistakes, and a poor safety culture combined to form “a cascade of stupid errors” that led to a triple meltdown.

This is the first restart of any of Japan’s 43 operable commercial reactors since Fukushima, and it is happening despite many unresolved questions concerning nuclear safety regulations. When it comes to safety, the Sendai nuclear power plant is definitely not at the head of the class: The utility owning the power plant was given a pass despite a very problematic history. (At one point, a regulatory commissioner called the plan to restart Sendai “wishful thinking”.)

There is certainly no nationwide re-emergence of nuclear power in Japan. Indeed, there have been vocal public protests against the Sendai restart. One of the protestors even included a former prime minister of Japan.

So, why is it happening? What are the ostensible reasons for a restart? Were they valid?

A three-pointed rationalization. The justification for a restart was based upon three key points: the type of reactors to be used at Sendai were considered inherently “safer;” the chance of a similar natural disaster(s) was considered to be minimal; and the concerns of the local communities were dismissed as inconsequential.

Let us look at each of these items in turn.

Pressurized water reactors are considered inherently safe. Because strict new standards for the regulation of nuclear power plants were imposed in July 2012—the result of the belated adoption of a tougher global standard—Japan’s newly formed Nuclear Regulation Authority deemed that pressurized water reactors (PWRs) such as those used at Sendai were safer than the boiling water reactor technology used at the ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Consequently, facilities with PWRs were given a longer time span—five years—to introduce severe accident countermeasures when the new regulation standards come into force.

For example, a nuclear power plant using a pressurized water reactor is not required to immediately install a filtered containment venting system to prevent large-scale radioactive contamination to the environment if the containment vessel inside is damaged. The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s reasoning is that the risk of containment vessel damage is low in a pressurized water reactor because it is so much larger than in a boiling water reactor, thus allowing considerably more time before any accident measures must be put into effect. Building on this logic, the agency then gave a temporary exemption to the requirement to install the venting system to any facility using PWRs. This relieved the plant operators of heavy burdens in terms of both finances and preparatory work. All 10 of the nuclear power plants (representing six different electric companies) that applied for the waiver use pressurized water reactors.

But PWRs are not inherently safe at all; for example, their steam generators are a serious concern. In 1991, the steam generator in the pressurized water reactor at Mihama Unit 2 of Kansai Electric Power in Japan was damaged, and the emergency core cooling system had to activated. Though caused by something as simple as the failure of the mount of a metal fitting, the resulting accident was rated at Level 3, or “serious incident,” on the seven levels of the International Nuclear Event Scale. Similarly, in 2013, Unit 2 and Unit 3 of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in California had to be closed due to a radiation leak from the plant’s virtually new steam generators; the two units subsequently had to be retired and the plant is now in the process of a costly decommissioning, predicted to cost $3 billion. And San Onofre used pressurized water reactor technology.

Natural disasters can be predicted. There are many glaring problems with this argument, not the least of which is the tendency of, say, volcanoes to behave in ways we don’t foresee. This is of major concern in Japan, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates interact and a large chunk of the planet’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes takes place. Kyushu Electric Power claims that volcanic eruptions can be readily predicted, and the Nuclear Regulation Authority accepted this argument. But many volcanologists insist that it is scientifically impossible to predict the eruption of a volcano—and there are many volcanoes and calderas near the Sendai nuclear power plant. According to a survey conducted by Kyushu Electric Power, catastrophic eruptions have been occurring on a 90,000-year cycle at the Aira Caldera, located 53 kilometers, or about 33 miles, from the Sendai site, with the latest eruption about 30,000 years ago. (There have been many smaller, near-continuous eruptions in the caldera since 1955.) Furthermore, sediment from the pyroclastic flow of a volcano has been discovered only 5 kilometers, or roughly 3 miles, from the reactors at Sendai.

Another problem comes from trying to determine the maximum acceleration likely to occur at the time of an earthquake. This is an issue of tremendous concern, because there are about 1,500 earthquakes of varying sizes in Japan every year. In the words of the World Nuclear Association: “Because of the frequency and magnitude of earthquakes in Japan, extra attention is paid to seismic activity in the siting, design, and construction of nuclear power plants. The seismic design of such plants is based on criteria far more stringent than those applying to non-nuclear facilities.”

Yet one of the reasons that the authority announced fast-track approval for Sendai was based upon a recalculation of the largest earthquake that could reasonably be expected to occur at the site of this nuclear power plant—which was found to be larger and more devastating than before, based upon the known seismicity of the area and local active faults. Known as “peak ground acceleration,” this figure is expressed in the number of centimeters per second squared, also known as “Galileo units” or Gal. Setting the value of a specific region’s peak ground acceleration is difficult scientifically; guessing just how bad an earthquake can get is the cause of many safety design revisions and much expense. In the case of the Kyushu Electric Power Company, however, the company not only said on its restart application that an earthquake was likely to be worse than previously expected (620 Gal rather than the earlier estimate of 540 Gal), it cavalierly said that its current reactor would be able to handle the higher figure. The NRA apparently considered this platitude about the resiliency of the company’s Sendai plant to be a statement of scientific fact and sufficient in terms of safety.

And some seismologists insist that an earthquake at Sendai is likely to be even more severe—they say that the earth could shake much more than 620 centimeters (about 20 feet) per second squared. For example, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a Kobe University professor and seismologist, has been warning about the problem of nuclear power plant accidents caused by earthquakes since his first book on the topic in 1994—17 years before what happened at Fukushima Daiichi. (Ishibashi even coined a term in the Japanese language to describe the problem: “gempatsu shinsai,” or “nuclear earthquake disaster.”) He insists that the intensity of a more severe earthquake is underestimated because the current value does not take into consideration other phenomena, such as an interplate earthquake.

And in any case, the 620 Gal figure comes from earthquake data collected from the north end of Japan, while the Sendai nuclear power plant is located at the south end, where conditions may be different. So, we don’t precisely know just how severe the peak ground acceleration will be at Sendai.

There is no available scientific literature on the influence of a major earthquake on delicate devices such as the steam generators used in pressurized water reactors.

Concerns of the local communities were dismissed. After the Nuclear Regulation Authority granted its approval in regards to the safety requirements, the final hurdle was to secure approval from two of the local governments: Kagoshima prefecture and Satsumasendai city. If they agreed, then the Sendai facility could restart.

Other neighboring communities, including six cities and two towns, had asked that the prefecture and the city include them in the list of “local governments of the nuclear power plant site.” They based their request on the fact that they would likely be affected by any radioactive contamination—after all, the plume caused by the Fukushima accident spread over 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the reactor site. But only those communities within 8 to 10 kilometers (about 5 to 6 miles) from the Sendai nuclear power plant were allowed to participate.

And even those within that radius were sometimes barred from having their concerns heard. A neighboring city, Ichikikushikino, is located just 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) from the Sendai plant, but that city’s request to be heard was denied by the governor of Kagoshima prefecture governor, Yuichi Ito, and by the mayor of Satsumasendai city, Hideo Iwakiri. This refusal is assumed to be based on two reasons: In addition to the difficulty of summarizing the different opinions on the nuclear restart, prefecture and city officials were concerned about having to decrease their own constituents’ share of the subsidy benefits that are to be provided by the plant to local governments. In the end, only Kagoshima prefecture and Satsumasendai city approved the restart in November 2014.

Other actions by the prefecture governor caused problems, as well. The prefecture’s disaster prevention plan was supposed to include an evacuation program for people requiring special assistance in any medical or welfare facilities located within 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) from the Sendai nuclear power plant. The prefectural governor, however, declared that an area within 10 kilometers (roughly 6 miles) from the power plant was more than sufficient as the target area for this program. Therefore, the number of applicable facilities was reduced from 244 facilities to to only 17 facilities, or less than one-tenth the original number. Furthermore, an evacuation facility that had been constructed by repairing an old elementary school, Yorita Elementary, turned out to have insufficient protective measures against radiation, even though the total construction cost for the facility was the equivalent of $760,000.

The real reasons for the restart. The decision to restart the reactor at Sendai is probably based upon the “dismal science:” economics.

It seems that financial considerations and worries about the health of the national and local economies triumphed over safety concerns; an article in the Japan Times says that when Kyushu Electric tried to turn to other means of generating electricity—such as thermal power—its costs more than doubled. “The huge costs have weighed heavily on its earnings. The company is aiming to shore up its earnings by reactivating idled nuclear power reactors. Kyushu Electric expects that the restart of the Sendai Number 1 reactor will save the company about 7.5 billion yen (over $60 million) per month.”

Kyushu Electric Power had previously tried raising the price of electricity after their nuclear power plant was stopped, but that still was not enough—their deficit continued. The best hope of profitability comes from restarting nuclear power plants.

This concern for their bottom line may be understandable, but it seems to come at the expense of public safety and open, democratic, rational decision-making. Kyushu Electric Power has used questionable means to promote its agenda. For example, at an informational meeting for local residents about nuclear power plant operation only three months after the Fukushima accident, Kyushu Electric Power sent in undercover employees pretending to be ordinary citizens, who then stood up and spoke in favor of nuclear power. The company also tried to manipulate public opinion by sending in “fake e-mails” in support of the restart of nuclear power plants to a television broadcaster. The president of Kyushu Electric Power resigned after the ruses were discovered.

Meanwhile, Kyushu Electric Power still refuses to hold talks with citizen groups and neighboring local governments, even after the plant has been cleared to restart. They also refused an offer from nearly 100 citizen groups this March to hold a discussion, and did not accept a petition containing more than 100,000 signatures. The company continues to refuse the requests of many local governments within the 30 kilometer (20 miles) radius of the Sendai site.

Economics also played a role in another way: The prefecture and the nearest city are financially dependent on nuclear energy. For a long time, the prefecture governor has been clearly stating that he endorses the restart. After the prefectural assembly election this April, he revealed that the reason the restart was approved in November 2014 was to avoid having it become an election issue.

Satsumasendai city receives more than $12 million in grants annually from the nuclear industry, which it uses to pay for its public and educational facilities, receiving about $270 million over the years. According to the Satsumasendai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the overall economic benefit of the restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant is approximately $25 million to the local economy yearly.

There are also questions of transparency in the dealings of local government authorities with Kyushu Electric Power. According to an article published this January by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, construction companies run by members of the Kagoshima prefectural assembly received 26 orders for construction work at Sendai, representing $2.5 million of work, in the three years since the Fukushima accident. Not surprisingly, these members of the prefectural assembly endorsed the restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant.

According to a survey conducted this May by a major local newspaper, MinamiNippon Shimbun, 59.9 percent of those polled were against a restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant. But their opinions may not be regarded as important because they have no economic significance. In this way, strict regulations are not being applied to nuclear decisions, even after the Fukushima accident. Economics was considered more important than human life: That is why the Sendai nuclear power plant was able to restart.

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

August 14, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Japan resumes nuclear reactor operation for 1st time in 2 years

sendai 2

Kyushu Electric Power Co. on Aug. 11 restarted the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, making it the first reactor to be reactivated under new safety regulations established in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It was the first time in about two years for a nuclear reactor to operate in Japan, after the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture were shut down in September 2013. The Kagoshima plant’s 890 megawatt No. 1 reactor had been inactive for around four years, three months.

At 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 11, a lever in the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant’s central control room was operated to remove rods controlling nuclear fission from the reactor. The reactor is expected to reach criticality at about 11 p.m. the same day.

After the reactor reaches criticality, Kyushu Electric Power Co. will check that it can be safely shut down, and if there are no problems, power generation and transmission will begin on Aug. 14. The power company will bring the reactor to full operating capacity in stages while checking the temperature and pressure inside the reactor.

If Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) finds no problems with the reactor during an inspection, commercial operation will resume in early September.

Operation of the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant was suspended in May 2011 for a regular inspection. Since the reactor has been offline for a long time, possible trouble caused by deterioration of pipes and other equipment has been feared. It is rare globally for a reactor to be restarted after being offline for more than four years.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has commented that various problems are envisaged, and the nuclear watchdog is therefore seeking solid safety precautions. The power company has said it will quickly release information if there is any trouble or if equipment malfunctions.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. has also had the nuclear plant’s No. 2 reactor undergo preoperational checks, and if there are no problems, the reactor is expected to be restarted in mid-October.

Japan has a total of 54 nuclear reactors. In the wake of the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, reactors were gradually shut down, and in May 2012 no reactors were in operation. In July that year, the government restarted the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture as a special measure, but they were shut down in September 2013 for regular inspections, again leaving Japan with no reactors in operation.

Applications have been filed with the NRA to screen 25 reactors at 15 nuclear power plants in Japan. In addition to the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Sendai plant, other reactors to have received safety approval from the regulator are the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture, and the No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture. All of these reactors are pressurized water reactors, different from those at the Fukushima plant.

The Fukui District Court has issued a temporary injunction halting activation of reactors at the Takahama plant, and there are no immediate prospects of the plant’s reactors being restarted.

It is unclear whether local consent can be obtained for restarting the Ikata plant reactor, and it is unlikely that it will be reactivated this year.

Source: Mainichi

August 13, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | 1 Comment

Volcano issues unaddressed in nuclear plant restart

Japan has seen its first nuclear power reactor restart in more than two years despite persisting safety issues related to volcanic eruptions.

The No. 1 reactor at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture came back online on Tuesday.

But the utility has not designated a site for relocating nuclear fuel in the event of a massive volcanic eruption, claiming that warning signs would give Kepco enough time to prepare and transfer the fuel.

The utility and the Nuclear Regulation Authority have also decided there is little chance of a major volcanic eruption in the next several decades.

In the event of a major eruption, however, pyroclastic flows could reach the plant and disable cooling functions for its reactors and spent fuel, which could trigger massive radioactive emissions.

There are five major calderas around the Sendai plant, suggesting that massive eruptions have occurred there.

The plant currently stores 1,946 fuel assemblies in spent fuel pools. The sheer volume makes it hard to find a relocation site big enough to take them.

A panel of volcano experts advising the NRA has compiled a report indicating that there are currently no technologies that can precisely predict the timing and scale of a major eruption.

Toshitsugu Fujii, a member of the panel and chairman of the Meteorological Agency’s Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions, has said that the panel’s opinion is not necessarily consistent with that of the NRA.

According to experts, the commonly held view is that it is impossible to predict a major eruption from warning signs because such eruptions occur only once every 10,000 years in Japan, so the data are scant.

The panel has proposed launching an advisory organization to the NRA to help deal with volcanic eruption forecasting. Due to time constraints, however, the launch of the organization is expected to be in September at the earliest.

The panel has also pointed out that the NRA should set standards for judgments on whether an impending eruption would be huge, but the time-line for setting such criteria is undecided.

Evacuation-plan worries

Two hospitals and 15 welfare facilities for elderly people within 10 km of the Sendai plant should have evacuation plans in the event that a serious nuclear accident occurs. However, concerns remain.

The prefectural government initially asked welfare facilities within 30 km of the plant to draw up evacuation plans in line with a central government policy. But it later changed course. Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito insisted that it would be enough if evacuation plans within 10 km are in place and that those beyond that would be unworkable.

The Otama-san no Ie elderly group home, the welfare facility closest to the nuclear plant — about 1 km south of the plant’s main gate — included an evacuation destination beyond 30 km of the plant and four routes to it in its plans.

“This is supplementary to local governments’ evacuation plans,” said Keiji Miyauchi, general manager of the group home.

Under the group home’s evacuation plans, residents will be first taken to a nearby shelter built by the Satsumasendai city government. The shelter, equipped with a filtered venting system that can block radioactive materials, has four days’ worth of water and food.

But Miyauchi said: “The group home has only a staff of two during the night shift. It would be difficult to take 18 elderly residents, some of whom are in wheelchairs, to the shelter.”

Miyauchi is also concerned about the evacuation routes. “Roads would be congested because they are narrow,” he said. “Some roads may be destroyed and made inaccessible if an earthquake occurs.”

Broad evacuation plans are available but details cannot be fixed, said an official at another elderly facility within 10 km of the nuclear plant. “Needs among elderly people change depending on the season,” the official said.

The facility has an evacuation agreement in place for an elderly home located beyond 30 km from the nuclear plant to accept its residents. But how to care for these evacuees remains uncertain.

“A facility alone can’t determine what to do after evacuations, and this is a matter that needs to be decided by the central or prefectural government,” the official said.

Source: Japan Times

August 13, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Amid protests, Kyushu Electric restarts Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima

sendaiSATSUMA-SENDAI, Kagoshima Prefecture–Kyushu Electric Power Co. activated the No. 1 reactor of the Sendai nuclear power plant here on Aug. 11, the first to be restarted in Japan under new safety regulations instituted after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The reactor is the first of 43 across the nation to be brought back online, ending a period with no nuclear power, which lasted for a year and 11 months.

As anti-nuclear protesters rallied around the Sendai plant, located in Satsuma-Sendai city, work to restart the No. 1 reactor began in the central control room at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 11.

Kyushu Electric workers pulled a lever to remove the control rods that had curbed nuclear fission in the reactor.

The 32 control rods began to withdraw, reactivating the reactor.

The reactor is expected to reach criticality, in which nuclear fission is self-sustaining, at around 11 p.m. on Aug. 11. Steam produced from the heat generated by the nuclear fission will drive a turbine to produce electricity.

The generation and transmission of electricity is expected to begin on Aug. 14. The output will be raised gradually, reaching full power generation in late August and shifting to a commercial operation in early September.

In a statement, Kyushu Electric Power President Michiaki Uriu said, “The activation of the nuclear reactor is one of the important steps in the process for restart. We will continue to deal sincerely with the government’s inspections and proceed with the subsequent process by putting a top priority on safety.”

In September 2014, the Sendai nuclear power plant passed the new safety regulations for the first time in the nation. In March this year, the Nuclear Regulation Authority started the inspection process that is required before a nuclear reactor can be reactivated. In July, nuclear fuel was brought into the reactor.

As operations of the reactor had been suspended for about four years, Kyushu Electric proceeded cautiously with the preparations.

All nuclear reactors in Japan were taken offline soon after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered three meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Though Kansai Electric Power Co. temporarily operated the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture to deal with an electricity shortage, it suspended operations again in September 2013.

The electric power industry is pushing for the restart of idled nuclear reactors. The Abe administration also regards nuclear power as vital to the nation’s power needs.

Kyushu Electric plans to restart the No. 2 reactor at its Sendai nuclear power plant in mid-October. Preparations for a restart are progressing at the No. 3 and the No. 4 reactors of Kansai Electric’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture and the No. 3 reactor of Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture.

One stumbling block for the Takahama plant is a temporary injunction the Fukui District Court issued in April this year to prohibit the restart.

Meanwhile, anxieties remain among residents living near nuclear power plants over insufficient emergency measures in the event of a nuclear accident. For example, the formulation of evacuation plans has been delayed for some medical and welfare facilities that house many elderly people.

In the Kyushu region where the Sendai nuclear power plant is situated, volcanic activity poses a threat. Therefore, some opponents argue that it is necessary for nuclear power plants to take safety measures against major eruptions.

The spread of summer power-saving campaigns and solar power generation have reduced concerns over electricity shortages even when no nuclear reactors are operating. A stable electricity supply is continuing across the nation even amid a serious heat wave.

Opposition to the restart of nuclear plants remains strong among the public.

Source: Asahi Shimbun

August 13, 2015 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment