MATSUYAMA, EHIME PREF. – Shikoku Electric Power Co. started loading nuclear fuel Friday into a reactor at its Ikata power plant, paving the way for a scheduled restart next month.
The utility plans to reactivate the No. 3 unit at the plant in Ehime Prefecture on July 26. The company envisions beginning electricity generation three days later and resuming commercial operation in mid-August.
The pressurized-water reactor using uranium-plutonium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel, will be the fifth unit to be reactivated under tougher regulations introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura said he hopes the reactor operator will make safety a high priority. Safety concerns remain, however, as the plant on the island of Shikoku is situated near a fault zone.
A group of local residents filed a suit in May seeking an injunction to halt the restart, arguing that strong earthquakes that have hit central parts of Kyushu may affect the fault and trigger further temblors. The plant is about 170 km (105 miles) east of Kumamoto Prefecture, the epicenter of the recent quakes.
The reactor, whose operation began in 1994, was suspended in April 2011 for a regular inspection after the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami and nuclear disasters.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority last July approved Shikoku Electric’s enhanced safety measures against possible earthquake and tsunami hazards as well as other major accidents prior to the restart.
The company started on-site preoperational checks of the unit in April, the last procedure toward reactivation.
On Friday, about 20 local residents shouted, “No to restart” near the power plant, saying the reactors should be decommissioned.
“I can’t believe the reactor is restarted even though the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tepco has not been contained,” said Takashi Hasebe, 62, who is a member of a citizens’ group opposed to Ikata’s restart. “We can’t stop natural disasters but we can stop nuclear power plants.”
But local businesses want them to be restarted in hopes of boosting the local economy.
“If the reactors won’t be restarted, our town would be depopulated even more,” said Tomokatsu Shinozawa, 55, who runs a Japanese inn in the town of Ikata. “I want it to be restarted as soon as possible.”
Another male farmer, 64, pointed out that spent nuclear fuel would be stored whether or not they are restarted.
“It’s dangerous one way or the other,” he said. “If that’s the case, it’s better to restart it making sure that it’s safe.”