OSAKA — Antinuclear activists in Fukui and Osaka prefectures said Tuesday the accident the day before at the Mihama atomic plant was due to Kansai Electric Power Co.’s attempts to cut costs and will negatively effect the utility’s plans to burn MOX fuel in the reactor.
As Kepco President Yosaku Fuji toured the Mihama power plant in Fukui Prefecture on Tuesday, offering apologies, local politicians and antinuclear activists who live nearby called for Kepco to answer allegations that the accident was the result of cost-cutting.
The accident occurred when a pipe carrying hot steam developed a hole. Four workers with Kiuchi Keisoku, an Osaka-based Kepco subcontractor, were killed and seven injured.
Kepco admitted Tuesday it had received warnings in November from another subcontractor working at Mihama that the section of pipe that broke Monday was in need of inspection. Kepco, however, did not carry out any checks.
“Kepco officials put cost-cutting ahead of safety. And the fundamental reason they were under so much pressure to cut costs was because of deregulation of the electric power industry,” said Teruyuki Matsushita, a Mihama assembly member who has long opposed nuclear power.
Michiko Ogiso, a longtime antinuclear activist in Fukui, said the accident will probably further delay plans by Kepco to burn mixed uranium-plutonium (MOX) fuel at the Mihama No. 3 reactor. Kepco officials still hope to start the MOX program as soon as possible, but Ogiso said public opinion in Fukui is turning against the plan.
“There have been so many problems with nuclear power plants over the years in Fukui. How many other plants were improperly inspected or not checked at all? Kepco may have made cost-cutting efforts at other plants as well,” she said.
However, she added that things would basically remain the same at the local political level.
“I don’t think the accident will cause Fukui Gov. (Issei Nishikawa) to become antinuclear. However, it will probably force him to be more skeptical and not just trust Kepco when it claims its power plants are safe,” she said.
While Kepco officials were kept busy apologizing to Mihama and Fukui residents, about 30 antinuclear activists held a protest in front of the utility’s headquarters in Osaka.
“This accident comes just a few years after Kepco admitted that data related to a MOX fuel shipment from England had been fabricated. Kepco has shown that it is not qualified to operate nuclear plants,” said Hideyuki Koyama, an Osaka-based activist.
Koyama and the other activists called on Kepco to hold a public forum to discuss the cause of the accident. Kepco officials in Osaka said only that they would pass along the request to the appropriate authorities.