Amid restart protests, Kansai leaders offer fuel storage

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Opposition among Kansai leaders to restarting reactors 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture remains strong.

But at the same time, a few have recently signaled they might be open to storing spent fuel from Oi and other prefectural plants in their localities.

Earlier this month, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa told trade minister Yukio Edano that spent fuel sitting inside the prefecture’s commercial reactors should be stored in areas where the electricity is consumed, meaning the Kansai region.

“I want you to spread the pain of nuclear storage,” Nishikawa told Edano.

Nishikawa’s plea was picked up by several Kansai leaders, including Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who strongly opposes restarting the Oi reactors.

“If you support nuclear power, you have to accept (storage facilities) in Osaka and Kansai,” Hashimoto said last week.

In neighboring Nara Prefecture, Gov. Shogo Arai has indicated he, too, wants to explore hosting a storage facility, and he plans to send a team to Fukui in the near future to learn about how spent fuel is stored.

Within 48 hours of Arai’s decision, the prefecture received 60 calls from residents opposed to his plan, and the mayor of Ikoma formally protested it.

Even if local opposition is overcome, finding a location that meets safety requirements could prove difficult. The Nuclear Safety Commission has several conditions for picking interim facilities.

In addition to somewhere less prone to earthquakes and severe weather, there must be guarantees the facility will not be exposed to fires or explosions at surrounding factories, or from flying debris in the event of an airplane crash. And the location cannot impact local farmland or fishing grounds.

Storing spent fuel has long been the Achilles’ heel of the nuclear power industry. Everybody wants the steady, stable supply of electric power it brings, but nobody wants spent fuel stored in their backyards.

For Kepco and other utilities, finding an answer to the question of whose backyard to store the fuel in is growing ever more urgent.

Interim facilities are supposed to hold spent fuel until it can be moved to the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture. But due to a host of problems, the Rokkasho plant is decades behind schedule. Even if it goes into operation soon, utilities and the central government face a formidable challenge in convincing potential host sites the fuel will only remain in their locality for a certain number of years before being transferred.

Storage facilities at Kepco’s 11 reactors in Fukui are, on average, 58 percent full. Facilities at the Oi reactors are 65 percent full.