A protester near the Takahama nuclear plant on Friday holds a placard denouncing the restart. | KYODO
TAKAHAMA, FUKUI PREF. – Kansai Electric Power Co. on Friday restarted its Takahama No. 3 reactor, the nation’s third unit to go back online under new safety regulations but the first to run on mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which contains plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel.
The restart has revived concerns, especially in neighboring Kansai, about the feasibility of plans to evacuate residents within 30 km of the plant in the event of an accident. It is also unclear where the spent fuel from the reactors will eventually be stored.
The restart was largely welcomed by local businesses and the town of Takahama, which rely on the subsidies and service industry trade that nuclear power brings.
“The restart of the Takahama No. 3 reactor came after it met stringent safety standards, and we hope the central government will continue to persuade people of the importance of nuclear power and that Kepco will make safety their top priority. We also hope that, after being offline for so long, the restart will help restore the local economy,” said Takahama town head Yutaka Nose in a statement following the 5 p.m. restart.
In the neighboring port city of Maizuru in Kyoto Prefecture, Mayor Ryozo Tatami said Kepco needs to make sure that restarting the reactor won’t lead to an accident. He also called on Tokyo to strengthen its disaster planning for such an event. The Takahama plant’s No. 4 reactor is expected to be restarted next month.
The Takahama plant lies on the Sea of Japan coast in southern Fukui Prefecture, with only a few access roads in and out of the area. About 180,000 people live in 12 towns and cities within 30 km of the site, in Fukui, Kyoto and Shiga.
While plans exist on paper to evacuate some Fukui residents to Hyogo, Kyoto, and Tokushima prefectures, many municipalities there don’t have detailed plans for receiving evacuees. This could possibly mean the only relief might come from Maizuru, which hosts the Japan Coast Guard and a Maritime Self-Defense Force base within 30 km of Takahama.
“We’ll cooperate in the evacuation of people by sea in the event of an accident, and we want to secure the safety of fishing boats. We’ll also respond to requests from the local governments for training exercises,” said Kousaku Higaki, Commander of the 8th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, which is based at Maizuru, on Thursday.
But the plans assume people will have the physical ability to flee. “There is no evacuation plan in place for the tens of thousands of people with special needs — inpatients and outpatients at hospitals and various facilities, those in day care, and those with handicaps living at home. When others can flee, there are no vehicles to transport these people nor medical care prepared at the evacuation site,” said Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of the antinuclear group Green Action.
“Restart of the Takahama plant is a human rights injustice toward children and those with handicaps,” she said.
Kansai officials critical of the restart include Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, who said Thursday he did not feel adequate local consent had been obtained due to concerns about evacuation issues. That same day, Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki said there was a lack of sufficient disaster planning.
On Friday, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura added his voice to the opposition, saying the rules for disposing spent nuclear fuel — the lack of mid-term and final storage facilities — remained unclear. The city of Osaka owns about 9 percent of Kepco’s stocks.
Fukui hopes the two restarts will translate into more central government subsidies for hosting the plant. The prefecture received ¥30.6 billion in nuclear related subsidies in fiscal 2014. The latest available figures for Takahama show it received over ¥35 billion between 1974 and 2013.
Kepco says that by restarting Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors it will mean an extra ¥144 billion in annual revenue, which will allow it to reduce utility rates, a critical move given the upcoming deregulation in April that will open up the household electricity market to more competition for suppliers. Nearly 130 firms are preparing to enter the market, and some have announced prices that undercut Kepco’s current rates.
But anti-nuclear activists say it is not just a matter of price, and that many people may choose to go with suppliers of electricity from renewable energy or other nonnuclear sources.
“The household electricity market will open up to more competition, especially from firms selling non-nuclear generated electricity. Customers will move away from Kepco if it tries to sell power from its nuclear plants, and the company won’t be able to survive,” said Kiyoko Kubo of Wakasa Net, an antinuclear group based near Takahama.
The restarts also mean Kepco must once again confront the question of what to do with spent fuel, an issue that is rapidly becoming one of local and national concern.
The spent-fuel storage pools for the Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors are expected to be full in about eight years. Kepco plans to remove the fuel and nuclear waste to a mid-term storage facility for a half century before transporting them somewhere else for final storage.
In a recent meeting with Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, Kepco President Makoto Yagi said Kepco wants to begin operating a mid-term storage facility outside the prefecture by around 2030. The utility aims to choose a site for the facility by 2020.
That presents a problem. Kepco promised Nishikawa that spent fuel from the Takahama reactors will not be stored within the prefecture but in one of the utility’s other service areas. This means Shiga, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Osaka, Wakayama, Mie or Gifu.But there are certain conditions a potential storage site has to meet. For transportation reasons, Kepco wants it located in a prefecture with port facilities. That eliminates Nara, Shiga, and Gifu prefectures. Second, Yagi says that local consent to build and store the waste is crucial.
That is potentially an even bigger problem. Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada has strongly opposed building a facility in his prefecture. Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui appears opposed as well, saying he does not want Kepco in charge of the facility. Mie and Hyogo prefectures have said they are not considering hosting a facility at present.
Only Wakayama appears to be a possibility at the moment. In 2009, the port city of Gobo hinted it might be interested in hosting a mid-term facility. Kepco did a survey and agreed it was possible to build there, but nothing has happened since then.