Irrational reactor restart plan

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Tuesday that it will ask the Nuclear Regulation Authority to examine the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture for a possible restarting under the NRA’s new safety regulations that will take effect Monday.

Tepco’s reactor restart plan is deplorable because it comes at a time when it is making scant progress in its efforts to safely shutter its stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, clean up contaminated areas, compensate victims and determine the causes of the crisis.

Given that Tepco’s gross mismanagement of the Fukushima crisis, people are questioning whether Tepco is qualified to operate a nuclear power plant. In the past months, Fukushima No. 1 has suffered a series of contaminated water leaks, and 150,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture are still forced to live away from their homes because their communities remain contaminated.

Tepco executives must realize that they have done nothing to regain people’s trust, but they do not seem to care. They did not even have the courtesy to give Niigata Prefecture Gov. Hirohiko Izumida advance notice about the restart plan. His criticism of their actions is most understandable.

Tepco is basically employing blackmail tactics in filing its request with the NRA. It effectively asserts that if the reactors are not restarted, it will have no choice but to further raise electricity fees. Tepco suffered a net loss of ¥685.2 billion in the business year that ended March 31. It is reported that operating one reactor will improve its income and expenditure balance by ¥100 billion a year. But the decision to restart the reactors appears to be short-sighted.

The safety measures that are required under the new regulations will be costly to implement. Since the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant are boiling light water reactors — the same type as the Fukushima No. 1 reactors — the safety regulations are more severe than those for pressurized light water reactors. They include the immediate installation of filters to remove radioactive substances when such substances are vented from reactor cores in an emergency.

It is also suspected that a geological fault under a reactor building in the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is active. If the NRA determines that it is active and then calls for the decommissioning of the plant’s reactors, Tepco will have wasted a huge sum on safety upgrades. Even if the plant passes the NRA’s safety examination, Tepco’s expenditures for the disposal of accumulated spent nuclear fuel will increase, and the power company is also facing rising costs associated with the cleanup of the stricken Fukushima plant, decontamination efforts and compensation.

The experience in Europe shows that it is cheaper and less risky to operate numerous small-scale renewable electricity sources spread across a country rather than a small number of large nuclear power plants. Since the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant has seven reactors, one accident could shut down the entire plant. Tepco has no financial means to cope with a new nuclear disaster. Its reactor restart plan is irrational both economically and socially.

  • Starviking

    “The experience in Europe shows that it is cheaper and less risky to operate numerous small-scale renewable electricity sources spread across a country rather than a small number of large nuclear power plants”
    Unless I’m mistaken, there is not enough history of renewable power in Europe to make such a sweeping statement. The rising electricity costs in Germany, however, would indicate that the “cheaper” claim is on shaky ground.

    • Rockne O’Bannon

      I don’t understand why people are so easily entrapped in the “either-or” dichotomy with nuclear and renewables. Many strong proponents of renewables in Germany lament the decision to abandon nuclear. Realistically, Japan has a bunch of pretty old nuclear facilities. I think they are still useful and still safe for about a generation. It also has great capacity for solar and wind. Great.

      Japan has forgotten its drive for energy independence. Japan has forgotten the Kyoto accord. All of a sudden, the only thing that matters is making nuclear reactors safe from asteroid strikes. Why has everyone forgotten the real enemy amid all the bickering and hand-wringing? It is fossil fuels, people. Japan’s energy policy was aimed squarely at reducing fossil fuel use and now here we are wondering which is better… nuclear or renewable. I think it is absurd.

      Use renewables for distributed generation and consumption. Use nuclear where needed to the degree that it is cheap and safe. Shut it down where it is neither. Time will tell. Neither nuclear nor renewables alone will replace coal, but both together, plus a little gas, can do it. That USED TO BE a goal worth working for. And that path leads to progress, not backsliding.

      • Starviking

        I actually agree with you, I was referring to Germany’s renewables push, which is tied to shutting down their nuclear plants. Nuclear and renewables plus some gas would be an ideal mix for me too.

      • thedudeabidez

        >Use nuclear where needed to the degree that it is cheap and safe.

        5 trillion and counting on the bill for Fukushima compensation, most of which will be paid by the taxpayer, not TEPCO. Hard to see either cheap or safe here.

        >Could it possibly be true that executives at TEPCO know more about nuclear plants and management of a utility than whoever wrote this?

        Oh, yes, they’ve proven their competence so well, haven’t they? Building on faults, ignoring warnings of tsunamis higher than they were anticipating, turning in a 2-page disaster plan to regulators, falsifying safety reports, paying off the media to silence critics … the list goes on and on.

      • Starviking

        Tepco did not ignore the tsunami warning: they investigated and found that the 869AD tsunami only hit the extreme north coast of Fukushima.

        Funnily enough, the 869AD tsunami did hit the Sendai area – yet the experts didn’t warn the people there. So, are they callous people who were not concerned about people’s lives – or did they not rate the tsunami threat as very high? Given that the tsunami was triggered by a very unusual seismic event, the simultaneous movement of a five-segment fault, I’d go with the latter.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    “Its reactor restart plan is irrational both economically and socially.”

    Could it possibly be true that executives at TEPCO know more about nuclear plants and management of a utility than whoever wrote this?

    I know it is fashionable to view TEPCO as a bunch of blundering boobs, but is that really the way we as a society should bet? There is a point when people will have to put their distrust away and let their leaders lead and let their managers manage.

    As far as “social savvy” goes, well, gee. All of the agreements that TEPCO and other utilities had with communities and the government were fully negotiated and fully accepted before 3/11. What really changed but people’s perceptions? Fear dominates the political discussion these days. Are we going to blame TEPCO simply because it is the only entity proceeding rationally, rather than being entirely dominated by fear?

    The problem will solve itself eventually when people come to fear incessant trade deficits, increased dependence on unstable nations, and high power rates more than they fear the bugaboo of radiation. Why wait that long? Before Japan chooses a nuclear or non-nuclear future, one hopes that it chooses reason over fear.

  • Starviking

    “Tepco’s reactor restart plan is deplorable because it comes at a time when it is making scant progress in its efforts to safely shutter its stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, clean up contaminated areas, compensate victims and determine the causes of the crisis.”
    And how does TEPCO compensate victims if it has to spend all its cash on fossil fuels instead of making use of an idled reactor complex?

    • thedudeabidez

      Easy. It hits up the taxpayers, which they will do whether they re-start reactors or not.

      • Starviking

        But but that option leaves the tax payers more out of pocket.