Utility to raze old, idled reactors, build new one

Compiled From Kyodo, Bloomberg

NAGOYA — Chubu Electric Power Co. said Monday it will decommission two aging reactors at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, and build a new reactor there.

With a growing antinuclear power movement making it difficult for the government and utilities to find new locations for nuclear plants, they plan to replace old reactors with new ones at existing sites.

Chubu Electric, Japan’s third-biggest power producer, will be the first utility to attempt such a plan.

More than 30 years have passed since the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors began operating. The No. 1 reactor has been suspended since November 2001 following a pipe rupture and the No. 2 reactor was halted in February 2004 after a regular checkup.

Chubu Electric initially aimed to resume their operations in 2011, but it has decided to build a new reactor, to be designated No. 6, as a less expensive replacement.

“We concluded it was economically unjustifiable” to resume operating the two reactors after spending “considerable money and time” on them, Chubu Electric President Toshio Mita said at a news conference in the city of Shizuoka.

The No. 6 reactor, to be built at a cost of around ¥400 billion, is expected to start operations in 2018 or later, according to the company.

Concerns among local residents over construction of the new reactor will grow, however, as the Hamaoka station is located in the center of the focal zone of a big earthquake expected to hit the Tokai region along the Pacific coast centering on Nagoya.

“We welcome the decision to decommission the reactors,” because there is doubt over their earthquake-resistance, said Shinya Totsuka, mayor of Kakegawa, Shizuoka Prefecture.

“But if the decision to decommission is packaged with the construction of a new reactor, I’m not sure it will gain the acceptance of local residents.”

Kikugawa Mayor Junichi Ota refused to meet with executives of Chubu Electric because news of the decommissioning was leaked to the media before it was relayed to the local government.

Kazuyoshi Suzuki, a 35-year-old resident of Omaezaki, welcomed the decommissioning, saying safe reactors should be the priority.

“I welcome the move if the new reactor can withstand” the huge earthquake that is predicted to hit the region in the coming years, Suzuki said.

Chubu Electric is in the middle of a court battle with a residents’ group seeking the permanent closure of the Hamaoka plant, which they say would pose a safety risk if a large earthquake hit. A local court turned down the plaintiffs’ claim on Oct. 26, 2007, and they have since appealed.

Hokuriku Electric Power Co. lost a similar case in 2006 for its 1,358-megawatt Shika No. 2 reactor in western Japan. It is appealing that decision, and the plant was running as of Dec. 19.

The Hamaoka No. 1 reactor, which was completed in 1970, has been shut since 2001 to repair the broken steam pipe to make it quake-resistance. Built in 1972, the No. 2 unit has been idled since 2004. The utility wants the new 1,150-megawatt No. 6 unit to go onstream in early 2018, with construction starting in 2015.

“It lacks economic sense if we implement work and restart the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors,” Chubu Electric said in a statement Monday.

The utility also revised its earnings outlook downward Monday.

The company is expecting a net loss of ¥78 billion for the year ending March 31 compared with ¥22 billion in profit it forecast in October, it said in a statement released in Tokyo. The utility will book a ¥155 billion charge for mothballing the two Hamaoka reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture remains closed after being damaged by a quake on July 16, 2007, that was stronger than assumed in the plant’s design. All of Japan’s nuclear operators submitted interim reports in March in compliance with government orders that they reassess earthquake safety.