Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai (center) hold talks Wednesday in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, with Yoshiaki Suda (left), mayor of the town of Onagawa in the prefecture and Hiroshi Kameyama, mayor of Ishinomaki
Tsunami-hit Onagawa reactor in northeast Japan gets final approval to restart
November 12, 2020
Sendai – A nuclear reactor in Miyagi Prefecture damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011 has cleared the last hurdle to resume operations, getting the green light Wednesday from local officials.
The No. 2 unit of Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa plant is the first of the reactors damaged in the disaster to win final approval with local consent to restart.
Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai and the mayors of Onagawa and Ishinomaki, the two municipalities that host the unit, gave their consent at a meeting after the plant cleared national safety screening in February.
“There is an excellent, stable supply of electricity in a nuclear plant, and the plant can also contribute to the local economy,” Murai said during a news conference after the meeting in Ishinomaki.
A Tohoku Electric official said the utility will “continue to do its best to ensure safety” in plant operations.
Tohoku Electric says it plans to restart the No. 2 reactor in fiscal 2022 at the earliest after work on safety and disaster prevention measures is completed, such as the construction of an 800-meter-long seawall at the plant.
The Onagawa plant is the closest nuclear plant to the epicenter of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck nine years ago.
The central government has been pushing for the reactor to be reactivated so as to ensure a stable power supply, with trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama seeking Murai’s consent in March.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said during a news conference that gaining local consent marks an “important” step.
The municipal assemblies for Onagawa and Ishinomaki had already given their consent, as had the prefectural assembly. On Monday, the leaders of most of Miyagi’s 35 municipalities agreed at a meeting to support the decisions of Onagawa and Ishinomaki.
Part of the reason for local approval is the money generated by hosting the reactor, with Onagawa having received from the central government around ¥27 billion ($256 million) in grants in the past, as well as hefty property taxes from Tohoku Electric.
Masanori Takahashi, chairman of the town’s chamber of commerce lobbying local leaders to support the restart, said, “We are getting closer to the end of disaster-linked infrastructure development projects,” adding it is now “absolutely necessary to restart the reactor to get the town’s economy going.”
Some local residents, however, believe the approval was rushed, saying concerns linger over whether evacuation plans can actually be implemented in the event of a nuclear accident.
The 825,000-kilowatt boiling water reactor won approval to restart from the Nuclear Regulation Authority earlier this year, becoming the second disaster-damaged reactor to pass stricter safety standards put in place after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
A massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering one of the worst nuclear disasters since the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Fukushima Prefecture, which is adjacent to Miyagi.
At one point, the disaster caused all of Japan’s 54 reactors to be brought to a halt. So far, nine units at five plants in the country have restarted following regulatory and local approval.
At the Onagawa complex, all three reactors — the same boiling water reactors as were used at the Fukushima No. 1 plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. — shut down but the underground floors of the No. 2 unit were flooded, after the facility was hit by a tsunami of up to 13 meters.
In Onagawa, more than 800 people were listed as killed or missing.
As the plant’s emergency cooling system functioned normally, there was no meltdown of the type that occurred at three of the six reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The utility has decided to decommission the reactor’s No. 1 unit, and is considering whether to request a review by the authority to restart the No. 3 unit.
Other boiling water reactors at sites including the Tokai No. 2 plant of Japan Atomic Power Co. in Ibaraki Prefecture have also won the regulator’s approval to resume operations, but have yet to obtain local consent.
From left: Yoshiaki Suda, mayor of Onagawa, Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai and Hiroshi Kameyama, mayor of Ishinomaki, hold a news conference in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Nov. 11.
Approval given for 1st restart of nuclear plant damaged in 3/11
November 12, 2020
SENDAI, Miyagi Prefecture–Citing expected economic benefits, local governments approved the first restart of a nuclear power plant damaged in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai on Nov. 11 said the decision on resuming operations of the No. 2 reactor at the Onagawa nuclear plant was “not an easy one.”
Required safety measures must still be completed at the plant, and questions remain about the evacuation route that will be used in the event of a disaster at the plant, which straddles the municipalities of Onagawa and Ishinomaki on the Pacific coast.
However, residents near the nuclear plant have requested a resumption of nuclear power operations to revive their depleted communities.
“We can expect many jobs to be created if the nuclear plant resumes operations,” Murai said. “Municipalities hosting the plant will also have increased tax revenues through the restart of the plant in terms of fixed property tax and nuclear fuel tax.”
His announcement followed a meeting with the mayors of Onagawa and Ishinomaki earlier in the day, in which the governor confirmed their approval of the planned restart.
Tohoku Electric Power Co., operator of the Onagawa plant, needed the consent from the host communities as well as Miyagi Prefecture although it is not a legal mandate.
The utility expects the reactor, with an output capacity of 825 megawatts, to be brought online as early as in 2023, when it plans to complete an array of projects designed to strengthen the safety of the plant.
“A critical decision was made as we are aiming at a restart,” the utility said in a statement about Murai’s announcement. “We are determined to strive in full force to enhance safety features of the facility.”
If restarted, the No. 2 unit will be the first boiling water reactor in Japan brought online since the 2011 nuclear disaster. The reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which suffered a triple meltdown after being swamped by the tsunami, are also boiling water types.
All reactors in Japan were shut down after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Since then, nine reactors at five nuclear plants have resumed operations. They were all pressurized water reactors located in western Japan.
When the 13.0-meter tsunami hit the Onagawa plant after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the No. 2 reactor building was just high enough to escape the water.
Still, part of the equipment to cool the reactor failed, and more than 1,000 cracks were discovered in the reactor building.
The Onagawa plant has two other reactors. Tohoku Electric decided to retire the No. 1 reactor, but it is preparing to apply for a restart of the No. 3 reactor.
The utility compiled a set of safeguards for resuming operations of the No. 2 reactor, including construction of a 29-meter-high sea wall as protection against tsunami.
In February, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the government nuclear watchdog, certified the No. 2 reactor as meeting the more stringent reactor regulations put in place after the Fukushima disaster.
The following month, industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama urged Murai to agree to the restart of the Onagawa plant.
Japan had 54 nuclear reactors before the disaster struck in the Tohoku region.
Since the Fukushima accident, the number has fallen to 33, as other reactors were retired.
The central government needs to bring around 30 reactors online to achieve its target of nuclear energy representing 20 to 22 percent of the nation’s overall energy output in fiscal 2030.
The government hopes the restart of the Onagawa nuclear plant will prompt other municipalities that host boiling water reactors to accept a resumption of their operations.
(This story was written by Shinya Tokushima and Susumu Okamoto.)