KYOTO – The magnitude-7.4 aftershock that rocked Fukushima Prefecture and its vicinity last week, more than five years after the mega-quake and tsunami of March 2011, triggered fresh nuclear concerns in the Kansai region, which hosts Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture.
The aftershock came as the Nuclear Regulation Authority approved a two-decade extension for Mihama’s No. 3 reactor on Nov. 16, allowing it and two others that have already been approved to run for as long as 60 years to provide electricity to the Kansai region.
Residents need to live with the fact that they are close to the Fukui reactors, which are at least 40 years old. Despite reassurances by Kepco, its operator, and the nuclear watchdog, worries remain over what would happen if an earthquake similar to the one in 2011, or even last week, hit the Kansai region.
Kyoto lies about 60 km and Osaka about 110 km from the old Fukui plants. Lake Biwa, which provides water to about 13 million people, is less than 60 km away.
In addition to Kepco’s 40-year-old Mihama No. 3, reactors 1 and 2 at the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui are 42 and 41 years old, respectively.
In the event of an accident, evacuation procedures for about 253,000 residents of Fukui, Shiga, and Kyoto prefectures who are within 30 km of the plants would go into effect.
But how effective might they be?
The majority does not live in Fukui. Just over half, or 128,500, live in neighboring Kyoto, especially in and around the port city of Maizuru, home to a Self-Defense Forces base. Another 67,000 live in four towns in Fukui and about 58,000 live in northern Shiga Prefecture.
Plans call for Fukui and Kyoto prefecture residents to evacuate to 29 cities and 12 towns in Hyogo Prefecture and, if facilities there are overwhelmed, to Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku. Those in Shiga are supposed to evacuate to cities and towns in Osaka Prefecture.
In a scenario put together by Kyoto Prefecture three years ago, it was predicted that tens of thousands of people would take to available roads in the event of an nuclear accident. A 100 percent evacuation of everyone within 30 km of a stricken Fukui plant was estimated to take between 15 and 29 hours, depending on how much damage there was to the transportation infrastructure.
But Kansai-based anti-nuclear activists have criticized local evacuation plans as being unrealistic for several reasons.
First, they note that the region around the plants gets a lot of snow in the winter, which could render roads, even if still intact after a quake or other disaster, much more difficult to navigate, slowing evacuations even further.
Second is the radiation screening process that has been announced in official local plans drawn up by Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures.
While automobiles would be stopped at various checkpoints along the roads leading out of Fukui and given radiation tests, those inside would not be tested if the vehicle itself has radiation levels below the standard.
If the radiation is above standard, one person, a “representative” of everyone in the car, would be checked and, if approved, the car would be allowed to continue on its way under the assumption that the others had also been exposed to levels below standard. This policy stands even if those levels might be more dangerous to children than adults.
Finally, there is the question of whether bus drivers would cooperate by going in and out of radioactive zones to help those who lack quick access to a car, especially senior citizens in need of assistance.
None of the concerns about the evacuation plans is new, and most have been pointed out by safety experts, medical professionals and anti-nuclear groups.
But with the NRA having approved restarts for three Kansai-area reactors that are over 40 years old, Kansai leaders are responding more cautiously to efforts to restart Mihama No. 3 in particular.
“It is absolutely crucial that local understanding for Mihama’s restart be obtained,” said pro-nuclear Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa in July, after a local newspaper survey showed that only about 37 percent of Fukui residents agree with the decision to restart old reactors.
Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki, who is generally against nuclear power, was even more critical of the NRA’s decision to restart Mihama.
“There are major doubts about the law that regulates the use of nuclear reactors more than 40 years old. The central government and Kepco need to explain safety countermeasures to residents who are uneasy. People are extremely uneasy about continuing to run old reactors,” the governor said earlier this month.
A turbine at the No. 3 reactor of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture is seen on Nov. 16.
The No. 3 reactor of the Mihama Nuclear Power Station in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, is pictured in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on Nov. 12, 2016.
Another operation approval of aging nuclear reactor contradicts 40-year rule
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has allowed Kansai Electric Power Co. to continue running the No. 3 reactor at its Mihama Nuclear Power Station in Fukui Prefecture beyond the 40-year limit.
This is the third nuclear reactor in the country that will have been allowed to continue to operate beyond the 40-year limit — following the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Takahama plant also in Fukui Prefecture.
The move contradicts rules stipulating that nuclear reactors should be decommissioned after being operated for 40 years, in principle.
It had been viewed as extremely difficult to extend the lifespan of Mihama’s No. 3 reactor because of its old design and difficulties in improving the reactor’s quake resistance as the plant operator is required to largely increase the estimate of the scale of the maximum earthquake that could hit the plant.
As such, the NRA once hinted that it would discontinue examinations of the reactor to see if it meets the new regulatory standards.
However, Kansai Electric Power spent 165 billion yen on measures to enhance the safety of the reactor. The NRA increased its personnel to accelerate the examination of the plant, and managed to approve the continuation of its operation by the deadline.
Six aging nuclear reactors across the country are set to be shut down and decommissioned. Their operators voluntarily decided to decommission these reactors, whose outputs are small, considering the units’ cost-benefit performance.
However, if power companies apply for permission to extend the lifespan of nuclear reactors, the NRA will almost certainly grant permission.
The rules limiting the operation of a nuclear reactor to 40 years, in principle, was established with the aim of reducing Japan’s reliance on atomic power stations following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011. Both the NRA and power companies should go back to the fundamentals of the rules.
Operation extension approved for Mihama reactor
Japan’s nuclear regulator has said an aging reactor will be allowed to operate beyond its 40-year maximum life span.
The No.3 reactor at the Mihama nuclear power plant, on the Sea of Japan coast, has been given a 20-year extension. The Nuclear Regulation Authority made the unanimous decision on Wednesday.
The reactor, in Fukui Prefecture, went offline in March 2011 for a regular checkup and has not been restarted.
The Mihama reactor turns 40 years old later this year, and it will now be permitted to run until November 2036.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority heard evidence on Wednesday that the reactor’s pipes and electric cables are expected to meet required standards for up to 60 years since operations began in 1976.
Some members referred to a 2004 accident at the reactor in which 5 workers were killed after high-temperature steam leaked from a damaged pipe. They urged the operator, Kansai Electric Power Company, to keep checking for possible decay to the facility.
The reactor is the third in Japan to be granted an extension, after 2 reactors at the nearby Takahama plant were approved for restarts in June.
Kansai Electric said it will not restart operations until additional safety work has been completed, by March 2020 at the earliest. It said it believes the restart will be economically practical.
5 October 2016, Tokyo – Today, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has again exposed itself as industry-captured by giving the Mihama 3 reactor owned by Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) a green light under post-Fukushima guidelines — clearing the way for restart — even before the regulator has completed its ageing-related safety review. The safety risks of age-related degradation can be enormous.
“The Mihama 3 reactor is like a vintage 1976 car that’s been driven at top speed for nearly 4 decades — and then sat idle for more than 5 years. Major safety components wear out, designs become outdated, and extended disuse creates yet another set of safety problems. Worse, it’s already been in a major accident 12 years ago due to a high-pressure pipe rupture that killed 5 workers. Most people wouldn’t just load up the kids in a car like that and speed off on a road trip. Yet, KEPCO and the NRA are trying to do just that, and they haven’t finished looking under the hood to see if the engine is alright. Unlike old cars, if an old reactor has a major accident, the victims can number in the hundreds of thousands and the crash site can extend for hundreds of kilometers. It’s nothing short of reckless, and puts the lives and livelihoods of families throughout the region at unnecessary risk,” said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Global Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Japan.
Nuclear power plants are enormously complex, and safety-related components are only subject to normal age-related degradation. Constant irradiation of major components embrittles the metal, leading to an increased likelihood of potentially catastrophic failure during operation or emergency shutdown.
The Mihama 3 reactor is also located in the seismically-active Wakasa Bay region. The deep concerns over inadequate seismic assessments for the KEPCO’s Ohi reactors – also located in Wakasa Bay – pushed former NRA commissioner and seismologist, Kunihiko Shimazaki, to challenge the regulator directly. Although the NRA dismissed his concerns, the agency admitted that they could not reproduce the figures submitted by KEPCO in their assessment and so could not independently verify their accuracy. The same potentially faulty seismic assessment method was applied to Mihama 3.
The restart of aging reactors in Fukui has caused concern in surrounding prefectures. On 23 August, the Kyoto Governor Keiji Yamada said of the potential restart of the Takahama 1&2 reactors, “ . . .we should be extremely wary when it comes to aging nuclear reactors.”(1)
The restart of Mihama 3 is currently being challenged in court as a part of an umbrella lawsuit against all Fukui reactors. Greenpeace staff are plaintiffs in a case against KEPCO’s aging Takahama 1 & 2 reactors, also in Wakasa Bay.
- Kyoto governor doesn’t accept Takahama 1, 2 reactor restart（京都府知事、容認せぬ姿勢 高浜原発１・２号機) Kyoto Newspaper on 23 August 2016 (accessed on 4 October 2016)
- Tomorrow, 6 October 2016, the Sendai 1 reactor in Kagoshima will be taken offline for scheduled maintenance. The newly-elected Kagoshima governor has repeatedly demanded the Sendai reactors be shut down for further safety checks. Due to his ongoing opposition to the operation of the reactors, it is unlikely that Sendai 1 will restart again before the end of 2016.
NRA grants aging Mihama reactor 20-year extension
OSAKA – The Nuclear Regulation Authority gave a green light Wednesday to extending the life of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s 40-year-old Mihama No. 3 reactor in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, by 20 years.
The ruling was certain to provoke questions in Kansai and elsewhere about whether the NRA is lax on safety concerns.
Safety work related to the extension still needs to be carried out and is expected to take years to complete. Kepco hopes to restart the reactor sometime after the summer of 2020.
Wednesday’s decision marks the second time the NRA has approved extending the life of a 40-year-old reactor to 60. It previously approved restarting Kepco’s Takahama No. 1 and 2 reactors, which are 42 and 41 years old, respectively.
Under new guidelines adopted after the Fukushima triple meltdown in 2011, operators must decide whether to decommission units or apply to the NRA for a one-time, two-decade-maximum extension once a plant becomes 40 years old.
Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa and neighboring Shiga and Kyoto prefectures have expressed safety concerns over reactors that are more than 40 years old and questioned the necessity of restarting old reactors.
Obtaining local political consent for a restart could thus prove tougher for Kepco than might be the case for a younger reactor. Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada has already expressed wariness over the decision to restart the Takahama No. 1 and 2 reactors.
Citizens’ groups in and around Mihama are also expected to seek temporary injunctions in local district courts to halt the restart, which could mean a further delay in plans to turn it back on.
Greenpeace Japan criticized Wednesday’s decision. In a statement, Senior Global Energy Campaigner Kendra Ulrich said Mihama No. 3 was like a vintage 1976 car that was driven for four decades but has sat idle for more than five years, and that restarting it now puts the lives of people in the Kansai region at risk.
“Major safety components wear out, designs become outdated, and extended disuse creates yet another set of safety problems,” Ulrich said. “Worse, there was a major accident 12 years ago due to a high-pressure pipe rupture that killed five workers.”
Currently, five reactors that are more than 40 years old and one that is 39 years old are to be scrapped over the coming decades, including Kepco’s Mihama No. 1 and 2 reactors.
TOKYO Aug 3 (Reuters) – Japan’s nuclear regulator on Wednesday approved an application by Kansai Electric Power Co Inc to extend the life of an ageing reactor beyond 40 years, the second such approval it has granted under new safety requirements imposed since the Fukushima disaster.
The move means Kansai Electric, Japan’s most nuclear-reliant utility before Fukushima led to the almost complete shutdown of Japan’s atomic industry, can keep No. 3 reactor at its Mihama plant operating until it is 60 years old.
The Mihama No.3 reactor, which will turn 40 years old in December, has been shutdown since 2011 and a restart will not happen immediately as Kansai Electric needs to carry out safety upgrades at a cost of about 165 billion yen ($1.63 billion).
Opinion polls consistently show opposition to nuclear power following Fukushima. Critics say regulators have failed to take into account lessons learned after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.