In major victory for nuclear industry, first reactor goes online under post-Fukushima regime

by

Staff Writer

Four years and five months to the day after the crisis began at the Fukushima No. 1 power station, Japan formally returned to nuclear power Tuesday with the restart of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai No. 1 reactor in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Despite nationwide public opposition, questions about plant safety, the practicality of disaster response plans and who will be responsible for them, the strongly pro-nuclear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, as well as the politically powerful utilities, local Liberal Democratic Party politicians, and major corporations involved in the nuclear industry have pushed hard to bring as many reactors back online as possible.

The nuclear lobby strongly argues that atomic power is cheaper than importing oil or coal and will help curb greenhouse gas emissions.

With the restart of the Sendai No. 1 reactor, the first under the new safety inspection regime that went into effect two years ago, attention has now turned to whether there will be a rush to restart other reactors.

In addition to reactor No. 2 at the Sendai plant, which is expected to be brought back online in early or mid-October, another 23 reactors at 14 plants are under consideration to restart.

Three of these, including the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama facility in Fukui Prefecture and reactor 3 at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, have been given the green light for restart by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA).

However, the two Takahama reactors have a provisional injunction against their restart slapped on them by the Fukui District Court in April, thereby making their fate uncertain.

On Tuesday morning, workers at the two-reactor Sendai plant in the city of Satsumasendai pulled out the control rods that have been suppressing nuclear fission in reactor 1 for the first time since May 2011, when it was taken offline for mandatory regular checks.

The reactor was expected to reach criticality within half a day, and the utility plans to start generating and delivering electricity in three days.

The reactor will have a test run for about a month, and if no problems are encountered, Kyushu Electric Power will begin selling the nuclear-generated electricity in mid-September.

At about the same time, final preparations will begin for a restart at the plant’s No. 2 reactor, which is expected to occur in early or mid-October, with electricity from that reactor being sold by mid-November.

“The Abe administration, under its basic energy plan, has already decided it will activate reactors that have cleared new nuclear safety standards by the NRA, which are the toughest in the world. It’s under this policy that the Sendai reactor was restarted,”  Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday morning.

Local communities like Satsumasendai, and the pro-nuclear local chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party, also rely heavily on central government subsidies and utility donations that come with hosting a plant. The restart of the Sendai reactor thus marks a major victory for nuclear proponents at not only the national level but in other localities looking to restart another two dozen reactors.

At a news conference in the afternoon, Satsumasendai Mayor Hideo Iwakiri welcomed the restart, saying he believes the plant’s reactors are safe and that he hopes they will provide a much-needed financial and economic boost.

“Between 5 and 6 percent of the town budget comes from central government funding for hosting a nuclear power plant or from Kyushu Electric,” Iwakiri said.

Tuesday’s restart came despite local concerns about what will happen if an accident occurs and, most importantly, who bears responsibility for the orderly and timely evacuation within 30 km of the plant.

“The premise of evacuation plans drawn up by Kagoshima assumes that the main access road in the area will not be damaged and will be available to get people out of the contaminated area before they are exposed to radiation. If that’s the case, what happens?” asks Shoji Takagi, a manga artist and anti-nuclear activist.

The question of where final responsibility lies for the overall safety of the plant’s operation, including proper safety measures, has emerged as the key issue in the debate over not only Sendai but all possible restarts.

Local officials say they grant permission for restarts based on the “central government’s” seal of approval but admit they also need direction from Tokyo to draw up more detailed and effective accident contingency plans.

The NRA, however, says it is only responsible for the technical aspects of the safety of each plant.

Yukio Edano, secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Japan, the nation’s largest opposition force, said that while the local governments have been tasked with drawing up and carrying out emergency evacuation programs, the roles of the central government have not been spelled out.

“(The Fukushima crisis) has made it clear that it is impossible for local governments alone to (evacuate residents). The central government should play responsible roles to evacuate them,” Edano said.

“But the state is trying to evade that responsibility,” he added.

In an attempt to quell lingering concerns, industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa said Tuesday that in the event of an accident, the central government will take the lead in responding to any emergency.

However, with nearly two dozen reactors elsewhere up for restart, both the central government and local authorities who want the money that comes with restarts are likely to find that demands to address these concerns in more detail are not going away.

Staff Writer Reiji Yoshida contributed to this story

  • Robert Matsuda

    What have we learned from the accident of Fukushima?
    First, both an electric company and the government cannot take responsibility once an accident occurs. In Fukushima 100 million people are evacuated from their houses even now. Second, we should value the lives of people much more than cheap power. Our lives are much more important than the pursuit of profit.
    But both the electric company and the government have forgotten the precious lessons of Fukushima already.

  • Oliver_K_Manuel

    To safely harvest and use nuclear energy for mankind, basic errors in nuclear physics must be corrected.

    1. The Standard Nuclear Model is flawed.
    2. Weizsacker’s nuclear binding energy equation exaggerates proton-proton repulsion and obscures neutron-neutron repulsion
    3. Neutrons repel, rather than attract, other neutrons.
    4. Neutron repulsion is the primary source of energy in:
    _ a.) Heavy atoms like Uranium
    _ b.) Some planets like Jupiter
    _ c.) Ordinary stars like the Sun
    _ d.) Galaxies like the Milky Way

    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former Student of Paul Kazuo Kuroda
    (1917-2001)

  • Paul Martin

    ANYTHING nuclear is NOT good for Japan or anywhere else especially when safer options are readily available a national referendum should be provided in such important matters !

  • Kazuhiro Shino

    Japan must restart the reactors whether like or not which is imperative for securing self sufficient electric supply instead relying on foreign oil market volatility perpetual revising safety protocol is obligation of the energy industry which has neglected was the cause of Fukushima disaster. Reactivate reactors & alleviate the national debts is the most important task for the government which failure would sunk Japan forever “irreconcilable to be functional as OECD nation

  • Hideomi Kuze

    Japan’s ruling class have protected Nuclear power for vested interests on the pretext of “power supply” “cost” ” economy”.
    but,Margin of power supply in Japan expanded year by year without Nuclear power since Fukushima Nuclear disaster 2011.

    and this summer heat in japan is beyond last year,

    however power supply in Japan have been more than enough without nuclear power.

    Superannuated Nuclear Power Plants “Sendai” in southwest end of Japan is most distant Nuclear Facility from the capital area in Japan.
    and Japan’s Nuclear Policy buy approval of “Nuclear Town” of countryside by immense Tax as ever.

    These facts show unchanged dangerousness of Nuclear Policy in Japan.

    besides,
    evasion of the responsibility,
    exclusive power market that was indirect cause of disregard against safety,
    underestimation to Nuclear incident and Natural disaster,
    safety standard of pretense,
    impracticable evacuation plans,

  • 牧瀬 そら

    The Japanese media never tell the voice of local inhabitants to people.
    They write an article along the company’s ideology called the anti-nuclear power plant.
    Why does the group demonstrating against a nuclear power plant of Japan not demonstrate with a Japanese national flag? There are all the answers there.
    It is a purpose to dampen Japanese national interest, and, for them, they do not mention China and nuclear power generation of Korea and do not protest it even before an embassy.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Nuclear fission is perfectly safe as long as there is sufficient government oversight to override the greed and incompetence of companies like TEPCO. Simply waterproofing the emergency generation equipment could have prevented the meltdown. It is also the only strategically viable choice for Japan for the immediate future (until we have fusion), because it’s the only source of energy that can be stockpiled in quantities sufficient to effectively make it a natural resource in a country with so few.

  • Oliver_K_Manuel

    Is NEUTRON REPULSION the Divine Force of Creation, Destruction and Preservation, hidden from the public seventy years ago after destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    Was NEUTRON REPULSION in the core of the Sun, Kazuo Kuroda’s assurance worldwide human tyranny would fail?

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/10640850/The_Begining_of_the_World.pdf

  • Aoi Azuuri

    Japan Govt hate current Japan Constitution as “compulsion from US”but They compel nuclear plants to nation people.

    Japan Prime Minister said:”Nuclear safety standard in Japan is best in the world”.
    but actuality is slipshod.

    Many populous towns are located on leeward of nuclear Plants in western japan.

    other countries’ Nuclear Regulation committee inspect practicability of refuge plans for residents.
    but Japan’s NRC never inspect it.
    because practicable plans can not co-exist with Nuclear power.

    almost residents cannot refuge from nuclear disaster in japan.

    Therefore many residents will be forced indoor evacuation.

    Nuclear policy in Japan instruct Indoor evacuation with”Don’t use Cooler,shut the Window” to people.
    They don’t consider even summer heat.

    also,contamination against tap-water,wind direction,and so,
    many danger are not considered yet.

    if Japan caused Nuclear disaster again,
    nobody take responsibility on the pretext of New safety Standard.
    while authoriteis pretend protect residents,
    actuality protect concerned person.