Third reactor restart spurs fears over shaky Kansai evacuation plans

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Kansai Electric Power Co. on Friday restarted its Takahama No. 3 reactor, the nation’s third unit to go back online under new safety regulations but the first to run on mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which contains plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel.

The restart has revived concerns, especially in neighboring Kansai, about the feasibility of plans to evacuate residents within 30 km of the plant in the event of an accident. It is also unclear where the spent fuel from the reactors will eventually be stored.

The restart was largely welcomed by local businesses and the town of Takahama, which rely on the subsidies and service industry trade that nuclear power brings.

“The restart of the Takahama No. 3 reactor came after it met stringent safety standards, and we hope the central government will continue to persuade people of the importance of nuclear power and that Kepco will make safety their top priority. We also hope that, after being offline for so long, the restart will help restore the local economy,” said Takahama town head Yutaka Nose in a statement following the 5 p.m. restart.

In the neighboring port city of Maizuru in Kyoto Prefecture, Mayor Ryozo Tatami said Kepco needs to make sure that restarting the reactor won’t lead to an accident. He also called on Tokyo to strengthen its disaster planning for such an event. The Takahama plant’s No. 4 reactor is expected to be restarted next month.

The Takahama plant lies on the Sea of Japan coast in southern Fukui Prefecture, with only a few access roads in and out of the area. About 180,000 people live in 12 towns and cities within 30 km of the site, in Fukui, Kyoto and Shiga.

While plans exist on paper to evacuate some Fukui residents to Hyogo, Kyoto, and Tokushima prefectures, many municipalities there don’t have detailed plans for receiving evacuees. This could possibly mean the only relief might come from Maizuru, which hosts the Japan Coast Guard and a Maritime Self-Defense Force base within 30 km of Takahama.

“We’ll cooperate in the evacuation of people by sea in the event of an accident, and we want to secure the safety of fishing boats. We’ll also respond to requests from the local governments for training exercises,” said Kousaku Higaki, Commander of the 8th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, which is based at Maizuru, on Thursday.

But the plans assume people will have the physical ability to flee. “There is no evacuation plan in place for the tens of thousands of people with special needs — inpatients and outpatients at hospitals and various facilities, those in day care, and those with handicaps living at home. When others can flee, there are no vehicles to transport these people nor medical care prepared at the evacuation site,” said Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of the antinuclear group Green Action.

“Restart of the Takahama plant is a human rights injustice toward children and those with handicaps,” she said.

Kansai officials critical of the restart include Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, who said Thursday he did not feel adequate local consent had been obtained due to concerns about evacuation issues. That same day, Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki said there was a lack of sufficient disaster planning.

On Friday, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura added his voice to the opposition, saying the rules for disposing spent nuclear fuel — the lack of mid-term and final storage facilities — remained unclear. The city of Osaka owns about 9 percent of Kepco’s stocks.

Fukui hopes the two restarts will translate into more central government subsidies for hosting the plant. The prefecture received ¥30.6 billion in nuclear related subsidies in fiscal 2014. The latest available figures for Takahama show it received over ¥35 billion between 1974 and 2013.

Kepco says that by restarting Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors it will mean an extra ¥144 billion in annual revenue, which will allow it to reduce utility rates, a critical move given the upcoming deregulation in April that will open up the household electricity market to more competition for suppliers. Nearly 130 firms are preparing to enter the market, and some have announced prices that undercut Kepco’s current rates.

But anti-nuclear activists say it is not just a matter of price, and that many people may choose to go with suppliers of electricity from renewable energy or other nonnuclear sources.

“The household electricity market will open up to more competition, especially from firms selling non-nuclear generated electricity. Customers will move away from Kepco if it tries to sell power from its nuclear plants, and the company won’t be able to survive,” said Kiyoko Kubo of Wakasa Net, an antinuclear group based near Takahama.

The restarts also mean Kepco must once again confront the question of what to do with spent fuel, an issue that is rapidly becoming one of local and national concern.

The spent-fuel storage pools for the Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors are expected to be full in about eight years. Kepco plans to remove the fuel and nuclear waste to a mid-term storage facility for a half century before transporting them somewhere else for final storage.

In a recent meeting with Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, Kepco President Makoto Yagi said Kepco wants to begin operating a mid-term storage facility outside the prefecture by around 2030. The utility aims to choose a site for the facility by 2020.

That presents a problem. Kepco promised Nishikawa that spent fuel from the Takahama reactors will not be stored within the prefecture but in one of the utility’s other service areas. This means Shiga, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Osaka, Wakayama, Mie or Gifu.But there are certain conditions a potential storage site has to meet. For transportation reasons, Kepco wants it located in a prefecture with port facilities. That eliminates Nara, Shiga, and Gifu prefectures. Second, Yagi says that local consent to build and store the waste is crucial.

That is potentially an even bigger problem. Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada has strongly opposed building a facility in his prefecture. Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui appears opposed as well, saying he does not want Kepco in charge of the facility. Mie and Hyogo prefectures have said they are not considering hosting a facility at present.

Only Wakayama appears to be a possibility at the moment. In 2009, the port city of Gobo hinted it might be interested in hosting a mid-term facility. Kepco did a survey and agreed it was possible to build there, but nothing has happened since then.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Be very, very careful. An accident in Fukui could well make Biwako water undrinkable, plunging Kyoto into massive problems. Would never occur? 3/11 was foreseeable.

    • Starviking

      Biwako is over 60 km away, and over the mountains. I hear it has industrial polution problems anyway.

  • solodoctor

    As was the case with the restart in Kagoshima the utility compsny, in this case, KEPCO seeks the approval of only the home community which is within the 30 km ecpvacuation zone. The mayors of the other 11 nearby towns and the two prefectural governors all have legitimate reservations about the practical logistics of evacuating 180,000 people in the event of an emergency. But the restart is approved before careful, thorough, and reliable evacuation plans are set. Can the Coast Guard, for example, transport many hundreds, if not thousands, of people on very short notice?!?

    Additionally, the matter of safe storage of spent fuel is not resolved. The events at Fukushima proved that large amounts of this stuff sitting in pools of water is potentially catastrophic. TEPCO ignored, even suppressed, warnings about this years before the Triple Disaster on 3/11. Is KEPCO doing the same thing? I truly hope that the following is not true in this case: “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

    • Starviking

      What did TEPCO supress?

  • Hideomi Kuze

    Japan’s Seismologists,Geophysicists and Volcanologist are still warning against restart of Nuclear Plants as danger.
    but Forecast of power company against natural disaster is optimistic and opportunistic as same as before Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.

    Use of Nuclear Power Plants in the country where immense natural disaster occur should be prohibited internationally.

  • Hideomi Kuze

    Strict members of Japan Nuclear Regulation Committee had been excluded by political pressure and harassment.

    Concerned person who gain profit from Nuclear industry increased as committee member.

    Though They used prediction system “SPEEDI” about radioactive contamination against NorthKorea nuclear test,never use against domestic Radiation leaks.

    Japan Nuclear Regulation Committee without independency is irrational for safety in Japan.

  • アオイ アズウリ

    Restart of nuclear plants with slipshod evacuation plans,
    because practicable evacuation plan is impossible in Japan.

    Japan’s nuclear policy and local government that gain benefit from nuclear plants for immediate profit divert their eyes from many lesson of Fukushima nuclear disaster.

    Japan politics have disregarded safety and health,for economic growth historically.
    Ministry of Japan have spread deceptive guideline that “Outside of 30 km from nuclear disaster is safe” to defend nuclear industry.
    moreover They still compel unsafe radiation provisional standard to residents of Fukushima.

    advertising industry-power industrial-complex spend big money to oppress anti nuclear public opinion.
    and,They spread atmosphere as if Fukushima disaster ended.

    They cling to Nuclear power despite after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fukushima.
    They are like mutants in “BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES”.

    Severe criticism from the world against opportunistic nuclear policy of Japan is necessary for true safety.

  • Joffan

    One of the most frustrating aspects of the government reviews of Fukushima, worldwide, has been their failure to put evacuation plans on a much more risk-based footing.

    It is clear from Fukushima that evacuation can be undertaken in a far more controlled manner than was done. There is absolutely no need to rush the process and there is time to get proper measurements in place, and to acknowledge the value of preserving communities and economies. The harm caused by evacuation is real and obvious and was given no weight at all in deciding actions.

    My guess is that a proper study taking all risks into account would find that a relatively quick precautionary evacuation of families with young children followed by detailed measurement and gradual evacuation, if necessary, of other higher-risk groups and enhanced support-in-place of the rest of the population would produce the least harm for most of communities possibly affected. Not forgetting the requirement to lift any evacuation orders in a timely fashion also.