Proposed storage of spent nuclear fuel sparks resistance in Aomori Pref. City

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The Recyclable-Fuel Storage Co. interim storage facility is seen fenced off in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, on March 6, 2018
March 22, 2018
The selection of a site to house an interim storage facility for spent fuel from nuclear power plants operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) has run into rough waters. In January, the Aomori Prefecture city of Mutsu surfaced as a candidate, but resistance quickly emerged from locals.
With KEPCO’s nuclear power plants being concentrated in Fukui Prefecture, the prefectural government has set a basic premise of storing spent nuclear fuel outside the prefecture. The utility aims to announce a candidate site this year, but there remains fierce opposition to accepting nuclear fuel from other prefectures, and because of this, its prospects of settling on a site are unclear.
After a 20-minute drive along a national route from central Mutsu during a visit by the Mainichi Shimbun in early March, an imposing fence could be seen along a snowy field. Beyond the fence was a square building — an interim storage facility that is being built by Recyclable-Fuel Storage Co. (RFS), a company founded by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. and Japan Atomic Power Co. The facility’s storage capacity is around 3,000 tons of spent fuel. There are plans to build a second building in the future.
In January, this facility gained nationwide attention. As the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) came to the final stage of its screening of the facility, news organizations reported that KEPCO was considering transporting spent nuclear fuel from its plants to the facility.
Mutsu Mayor Soichiro Miyashita immediately held a news conference, saying he had heard no such thing from the central government, KEPCO, or RFS. “The feelings of the region are being completely ignored,” he said.
In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on March 6, Miyashita suggested it was unlikely KEPCO would bring its nuclear fuel into the facility as things stand. “Operations at the site haven’t started yet. Without the facility having cleared the NRA’s screening, it’s unthinkable that they could change the status quo,” he said.
The Shimokita Peninsula in northern Aomori Prefecture, where the city of Mutsu is located, not only houses the interim storage building, but has a collection of other nuclear facilities including the Higashidori Nuclear Power Plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Higashidori, the Oma Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Oma and the reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel in the village of Rokkasho. But since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, construction of nuclear facilities has been suspended or delayed.
“We had expected our nonresident population to increase in line with nuclear power plant construction and inspections. But taxi companies are going out of business, and the economic chill is severe,” Miyashita said.
Alongside concerns about the storage of nuclear fuel, there are also deeply rooted aspirations regarding the operation of nuclear power plants in the region. Katsura Sonoda, head of the Mutsu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, commented, “In local economic circles, there is little resistance to reactivating nuclear power plants, and we want the interim storage facility to go into operation quickly. Fixed property taxes and subsidies will also increase.
A figure in the energy industry commented, “The mayor is up for election for a second term in June. It’s not the case that he lacks understanding of nuclear power-related projects; I guess it’s just that he had to be sensitive toward antinuclear public sentiment in the wake of the nuclear disaster (in Fukushima).”
In late January, KEPCO announced that it would set up an office in Aomori in June to handle payment-related issues, employing about 70 people. A public relations representative for the company maintained that this had nothing to do with the interim storage facility, but this has not swept away the view that the company is entering Aomori Prefecture to warm the region to the idea of hosting the facility.



KEPCO studying moving spent nuclear fuel from Fukui to Aomori

Kansai Electric Power Co. is considering transferring spent nuclear fuel stored in its three nuclear plants in Fukui Prefecture to an intermediate storage facility in Aomori Prefecture, sources said on Jan. 6.
KEPCO had promised to move the fuel outside the prefecture when the Fukui prefectural government allowed the utility to restart two reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant.
KEPCO President Shigeki Iwane has said that a facility will be secured by the end of 2018 to accept the fuel.
According to the sources, KEPCO is also considering other locations. However, the intermediate storage facility, located in Mutsu in northern Aomori Prefecture, is a promising candidate because it has already been constructed.
However, since consent from local governments is required, KEPCO could face difficulties in transferring the fuel to the facility.
At present, KEPCO is storing spent nuclear fuel, which is produced in its Takahama, Oi and Mihama nuclear power plants in Fukui Prefecture, in pools in their compounds. However, about 70 percent of the capacity of those pools have been filled.
If the restarts of the reactors in the plants proceed as expected, the remaining 30 percent will also be filled in about seven years. Therefore, KEPCO is trying to secure an intermediate storage facility to temporarily store the fuel by putting it in metal containers.
The intermediate storage facility in Mutsu was jointly constructed by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and Japan Atomic Power Co. at a cost of about 100 billion yen ($884.6 million) to store spent nuclear fuel produced by their nuclear plants.
However, acceptance of the fuel from those plants has yet to start because the facility is currently undergoing screenings to see if it is in compliance with new safety standards introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The intermediate storage facility has a capacity of accepting a total of 5,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel.
KEPCO is considering securing storage space there by purchasing part of the shares of a company that will operate the facility.