Two nuclear reactors in Saga Prefecture pass safety checks

Kyodo, JIJI

Two nuclear reactors in Saga Prefecture passed a key state safety assessment Wednesday, but uncertainty remains over whether operator Kyushu Electric Power Co. will win local support to bring them back online amid lingering safety concerns.

The No. 3 and No. 4 units of the Genkai plant are among many reactors in limbo after the tougher safety requirements were introduced in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster in 2011.

To restart the Genkai No. 3 and No. 4 units, Kyushu Electric needs approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority for detailed designs of equipment and procedures for dealing with severe accidents. The reactors are expected to restart in April or later.

The government has been pushing for reactor restarts as nuclear power is regarded as a key energy source even after the Fukushima disaster. But the process has been slow, partly due to safety concerns.

As for the resumption of the Genkai reactors, the city of Imari, which sits within a 30-km radius of the plant, has expressed concerns over evacuation preparations.

The Fukushima disaster led the central government to expand the areas around nuclear plants that should prepare for evacuation to 30 km from 10 km.

The 30-km areas around the Kyushu Electric plant, which faces the Genkai Sea, includes municipalities in Saga Prefecture, neighboring Fukuoka and Nagasaki prefectures, and 17 islands where about 20,000 people live.

In an emergency, residents on the islands would evacuate by ship. But critics say measures for safe evacuation in bad weather must be established.

While there are more than 40 commercial reactors across the country, only two are now operating — the No. 1 reactor at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture and the No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture.

The Sendai plant’s No. 2 unit is operable, but is currently undergoing regular checkups.

Two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture were also restarted last year after clearing safety hurdles. But a court injunction in connection with safety issues shut them down with no clear timeline for a restart.