National

Shikoku MOX plant restarts amid outcry over fresh quake fears

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Shikoku Electric Power Co. restarted the Ikata No. 3 reactor Friday at its plant on the narrow Sadamisaki Peninsula in Ehime Prefecture as citizens groups sought injunctions in three different prefectures to turn it back off amid various safety concerns, including the viability of evacuations.

The reactor is the fifth to be switched back on since all of the nation’s atomic reactors were closed due to the March 2011 triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant following a mega-quake and tsunami.

However, a March decision by the Otsu District Court to place a temporary injunction on two Kansai Electric Power Co. reactors in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, left only two reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in operation. They were restarted a year ago.

The Ikata No. 3 unit is also the only reactor burning the mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel.

Shikoku Electric reported no problems with the restart Friday morning, saying it was expected to reach criticality by Saturday morning and begin generating and transmitting electricity by Monday. After a series of final checks, the utility plans to start selling reactor-generated electricity early next month.

But the reactor’s restart has not gone unchallenged. The Otsu District Court decision, which shut down Kepco’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors less than two months after they were restarted, has energized residents who opposed the Ikata restart. In light of the quakes in Kyushu earlier this year, many now fear a natural disaster could also damage the reactor, and that official evacuation plans for the slender peninsula could prove unrealistic.

Petitions seeking a temporary injunction on the Ikata reactor have been filed in the district courts of Matsuyama in Ehime, as well as Hiroshima and Oita, by people living relatively close to the plant. Matsuyama is about 60 km from Ikata and Hiroshima is within 100 km. Oita’s Saganoseki Peninsula is about 45 km away.

A temporary injunction from any one of the three courts would almost certainly mean Ikata No. 3 would have to shut down immediately. For this reason, anti-nuclear lawyers involved with the petitions remain hopeful the courts will do what politicians have not.

“The Otsu court decision to shut down the Takahama reactors sent a shock wave through the government and the utilities. Political measures including demonstrations are needed. But I’ve come to believe the best way to stop the restart of nuclear power plants is through legal means, such as filing lawsuits and requests for temporary injunctions,” Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer involved with the Matsuyama, Hiroshima and Oita petitions, said at a news conference in Matsuyama late last month.

The Otsu decision angered Kepco and senior corporate leaders in the Kansai region who fear it will spark a nationwide movement against nuclear power plants. Some are now pushing the government to establish a separate court presided over by judges with specialized knowledge, or to establish separate legal measures to review petitions by citizens’ groups targeting restarts in the hope of obtaining more favorable rulings.

“From the viewpoint of a stable energy supply, it’s necessary to reduce the legal risks as much as possible,” Kansai Economic Federation chairman and former Kepco Chairman Shosuke Mori said at his regular news conference last month.

Other pro-nuclear Kansai economic leaders support Mori’s call for legal changes.

“Why should the nation’s energy policy be impaired by a judge at a district court? I hope the law is quickly changed so this doesn’t happen,” said Kansai Economic Federation Vice Chairman and Hankyu Railways Chairman Kazuo Sumi after the initial Oita ruling in March.

In their request for a temporary injunction on the Ikata unit, citizens’ groups cite the fact that it lies about 5 km from the Median Tectonic Line, which runs from Kyushu to Honshu. They also say that evacuation plans in the event of a natural disaster that damages the plant could prove impossible if the roads along the narrow, landslide-prone peninsula hosting it collapse or are washed away by a tsunami.

Even officials who support the restart have stressed the need for better communication with the prefectural and central governments in the event of an accident that forces an evacuation.

“There are heightened concerns compared with the past, and we’ll strengthen the information collection system,” Ikata Vice Mayor Matabei Moriguchi said Friday after the restart.