The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has formally approved a screening report certifying that the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) meet the new regulatory standards.
KEPCO restarted the No. 4 reactor at its Takahama nuclear plant, also in Fukui Prefecture, earlier this month. The utility also intends to resume operations at the Takahama plant’s No. 3 reactor next month.
KEPCO’s four nuclear reactors will be up and running possibly by the end of this year provided that the company can gain consent from the local governments hosting these plants.
The Osaka-based power company intends to restart nine reactors in Fukui Prefecture, including three aging ones. Among major power companies, KEPCO is particularly enthusiastic about relying on nuclear power again despite the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.
However, local governments hosting these nuclear plants have failed to work out adequate plans to evacuate residents in case of a serious nuclear accident.
The Oi and Takahama plants are only about 10 kilometers away from each other. Should serious accidents occur simultaneously at these power stations due to a natural disaster or other factors, it would be extremely difficult for the utility and local governments to respond to such a critical situation. The NRA has so far failed to seriously consider problems involving the concentration of nuclear plants in a small area. It is hardly acceptable that KEPCO has been pressing forward with reactivation of its nuclear power stations one after another despite such circumstances.
KEPCO reportedly insists that it would be able to lower its electricity charges if it reactivates nuclear reactors and slashes fuel costs at its thermal power plants, thereby improving its financial situation. However, serious questions remain as to whether the management of KEPCO, which depends heavily on atomic power stations, is sustainable.
Electricity generated by nuclear power accounted for about half of all electricity KEPCO generated before the outbreak of the nuclear crisis — the highest ratio of all power companies in the country. Following the nuclear accident, KEPCO’s fuel costs sharply rose because the utility was forced to generate more power at its thermal power stations to make up for power shortages following the suspension of operations at its nuclear plants, forcing the utility to raise its power charges twice and leading it to lose a considerable number of customers. KEPCO President Shigeki Iwane says, “Our biggest business strategy is reactivating nuclear plants.”
However, the costs of wind power and solar power have kept decreasing, and investments in energy throughout the world are now concentrated on renewable energy. Furthermore, nuclear power industries in developed countries have been declining.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to reduce Japan’s reliance on atomic power in the long run. Measures to ensure the safety of aging reactors could cost power companies more than estimated. If a serious accident were to occur at a nuclear station, it could endanger the existence of the plant’s operator.
The creation of a management structure at KEPCO that will not be affected by nuclear power would eventually lead to the company’s long-term profits. The Osaka and Kyoto municipal governments have proposed at KEPCO’s shareholder meetings that the company decrease its dependence on atomic power on the grounds that such efforts would strengthen and stabilize the utility’s operations.
Attention will be focused on the procedure for gaining consent from the local governments for reactivation of the Oi plant. Considering the possible impact of a serious accident, KEPCO should gain consent from not only the local body hosting the plant but also those within a radius of 30 kilometers from the plant that are obligated to draw up evacuation plans.