Two nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture received a safety clearance from the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Thursday, marking a major step in efforts by Kansai Electric Power Co. to commence restarts this year.
It is the second time the NRA has granted a green light to potential restarts under tough, new safety standards. It earlier cleared two reactors at the Sendai plant in Kagoshima.
Although the new regulator said the Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors meet operational safety requirements, two prefectures nearby fear how they would be affected by an accident and are demanding a say in whether to bring the plant back to life.
Furthermore, anti-nuclear activists warn that neither Fukui nor the Kansai region have developed detailed evacuation plans in the case of an accident.
The Takahama reactors, which turn 30 years old this year, still need approval from the NRA for design upgrades. They must also complete pre-start operational checks and win approval from residents. Kepco has said it hopes to restart them later this year, possibly in November.
The NRA said its decision had been uninfluenced by public concerns, including allegations that Kepco may have underplayed the likelihood of a major earthquake in the vicinity and concerns about the reactors’ vulnerability to terrorism.
At a news conference Thursday, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said the reactors meet the new safety standards but cautioned the checks are only one element in assessing risk.
“This doesn’t mean there’s zero risk of an accident. What I’m saying is that under the new regulations and standards, the safety level sought for operation of the reactors has been satisfied,” Tanaka said.
Kepco now needs to not only address the remaining technical and engineering issues, but also placate neighboring Kyoto and Shiga prefectures with assurances about safety and evacuation steps.The Takahama plant is only a few kilometers from the Fukui-Kyoto border.
About 397,000 people live within 30 km of the plant, including almost 90,000 in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, a port city with a Maritime Self-Defense Force base that would likely play a major role in any evacuation.
In addition, 52,000 people in Shiga Prefecture, home to Lake Biwa, a major source of drinking water in the region, live within 30 km of the reactors.
Kepco is in talks with Kyoto and Shiga prefectures about various forms of cooperation for a restart. But residents in both prefectures are demanding the practice of formally obtaining local cooperation on restarts should include not only the governments that host a nuclear power plant but all administrations within 30 km — the approximate exclusion zone surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Fukui opposes expanding the definition of “local consent,” and Kepco has said only that it will formally seek permission from the Fukui governor and the town of Takahama.
Prior to the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, the Kansai region relied on nuclear power for approximately half of its electricity needs.