National

NRA gives two-decade extension to 40-year-old Takahama reactors; residents’ reactions mixed

Kyodo, Staff Report

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Monday approved an additional 20 years of operation for two aging reactors on the Sea of Japan coast that will become the first such units to be rebooted under new rules introduced after the Fukushima disaster.

The atomic regulator green-lighted Kansai Electric Power Co.’s plan to restart its No. 1 and No. 2 reactors — both more than 40 years old — at the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.

But the reboot is unlikely to happen soon, with the company eyeing an October 2019 timetable for completing the final screening measures.

The rules, which were tightened after the 2011 triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, in principle set the maximum operational life span for nuclear reactors at 40 years. However, the regulations also stipulated that operations can be extended by an additional 20 years if the NRA approves.

Meanwhile, Takahama’s two other reactors — No. 3 and No. 4 — remain idle after the Otsu District Court rejected a bid Friday by Kepco to lift an injunction preventing their restart.

The utility has condemned the court’s move.

Kepco had been closely monitoring the condition of the two aging reactors in a stricter manner than regular checkups since December 2014 as it sought to obtain approval for extending their life spans.

After confirming there were no abnormalities, the utility applied for an NRA screening in April last year.

The utility had been required to complete three procedures by July 7 to obtain permission for restarting units No. 1 and No. 2. While they had already passed a test for compatibility with the new rules and received approval for a construction plan detailing equipment design, the only remaining test had been of the reactors’ anti-degradation measures.

In that screening, regulators asked that the utility address the potential for long electrical cables to catch fire and how it would cover the containment vessels with concrete in the event of a serious accident. NRA chief Shunichi Tanaka said he hopes the power company will conduct inspections more often than required to ensure the facilities are safe.

The utility will spend ¥200 billion ($1.9 billion) to improve the reactors’ safety over the next 3½ years. They are expected to be restarted sometime after fall 2019.

Reactors 1 and 2 will thus reach the end of service in November 2034 and 2035, respectively.

Residents had mixed reaction to the decision.

The town of Takahama “has lived with the nuclear power plant for a long time. I hope the (reactors’) resumption will help revitalize the local economy,” a woman in her 20s said, though admitting she is worried about their safety.

While Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose welcomed the decision, he said he will ask the regulator and plant operator for detailed explanations of the safety steps to respond to residents’ concerns.

Kansai Electric said in a press release that it believes permission for reactors to run beyond the 40-year limit heralds the restart of more of Japan’s aging reactors.

The government is pushing to bring dozens of reactors back online after the Fukushima disaster prompted a nationwide shutdown, as it looks to atomic power to provide 20 to 22 percent of its electricity by 2030.

The government will need a dozen aging reactors running beyond the four-decade limit to meet its goal, experts say, given the difficulty of building new reactors now that Japan’s long-held nuclear safety myth has been shattered by the triple meltdown in Fukushima.

The No. 1 reactor began operating in November 1974, while the No. 2 reactor did so in November the following year. Both reactors have been suspended since regular checkups in 2011