National

Yamaguchi Prefecture renews license for new nuclear plant project

Kyodo

The Yamaguchi Prefectural Government on Wednesday renewed a license for Chugoku Electric Power Co. to reclaim land for a new nuclear power plant in the western prefecture, surprising and angering local residents opposed to the project.

Whether to extend the expired license for landfill work in the coastal town of Kaminoseki for the Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Station had been a pending issue after the eruption of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011 led to the work being halted.

The local government, however, decided to grant permission, saying that the plant is positioned “within the country’s energy policy.”

Local opposition, however, is likely to prevent a quick restart of work by the utility.

The local government’s license renewal is also conditional: It said landfill work should not start until the schedule for building plant facilities becomes clear.

The latest development could also open up substantial discussions on whether new reactors should be built in the country.

The central government has largely avoided this amid widespread anti-nuclear sentiment after the Fukushima crisis.

The government has already been pushing for the resumption of existing reactors that have met post-Fukushima safety standards.

On Wednesday, the No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture became the latest unit to have effectively cleared the new safety assessment.

Chugoku Electric was initially granted the landfill license in October 2008 for the two-reactor Kaminoseki complex on an island in the Seto Inland Sea.

The company began landfill work a year later, but progress was slow amid local protests. Work was ultimately suspended after the 2011 Tohoku quake-and-tsunami disasters triggered the Fukushima crisis.

Just before the license was set to expire in October 2012, the utility applied for a three-year extension from the prefectural government.

“We have not changed our idea that we need the Kaminoseki plant,” a utility official said at the time. “We want to keep the license.”

Then-Yamaguchi Gov. Shigetaro Yamamoto said the local government would “examine the issue appropriately” but did not make a decision, citing “special circumstances after the nuclear accident.”

But the prefectural government reversed course on Wednesday and permitted the license extension, with the caveat that landfill work not begin until the utility presents a clear schedule of when they will begin building the plant facilities.

Chugoku Electric Vice President Akira Sakotani said the same day that there is currently no specific date set for building the facilities.

“We will seriously take to heart the request (by the prefectural government) and carefully consider (our response),” he said.

The license will be effective until July 6, 2019.

The decision of the prefectural government drew mixed responses from local residents.

“I can’t believe the permission was given,” said Toshiyasu Shimizu, 61, who heads a group of residents on an island several kilometers from the construction site.

But Naonori Koizumi, a 58-year-old member of a group supporting the construction project, voiced approval of the plan.

“I don’t think work will immediately resume, but the town is depopulating and graying,” Koizumi said. “I hope nuclear power will make this town richer.”

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