National

NRA grants aging Mihama reactor 20-year extension

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The Nuclear Regulation Authority gave a green light Wednesday to extending the life of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s 40-year-old Mihama No. 3 reactor in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, by 20 years.

The ruling was certain to provoke questions in Kansai and elsewhere about whether the NRA is lax on safety concerns.

Safety work related to the extension still needs to be carried out and is expected to take years to complete. Kepco hopes to restart the reactor sometime after the summer of 2020.

Wednesday’s decision marks the second time the NRA has approved extending the life of a 40-year-old reactor to 60. It previously approved restarting Kepco’s Takahama No. 1 and 2 reactors, which are 42 and 41 years old, respectively.

Under new guidelines adopted after the Fukushima triple meltdown in 2011, operators must decide whether to decommission units or apply to the NRA for a one-time, two-decade-maximum extension once a plant becomes 40 years old.

Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa and neighboring Shiga and Kyoto prefectures have expressed safety concerns over reactors that are more than 40 years old and questioned the necessity of restarting old reactors.

Obtaining local political consent for a restart could thus prove tougher for Kepco than might be the case for a younger reactor. Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada has already expressed wariness over the decision to restart the Takahama No. 1 and 2 reactors.

Citizens’ groups in and around Mihama are also expected to seek temporary injunctions in local district courts to halt the restart, which could mean a further delay in plans to turn it back on.

Greenpeace Japan criticized Wednesday’s decision. In a statement, Senior Global Energy Campaigner Kendra Ulrich said Mihama No. 3 was like a vintage 1976 car that was driven for four decades but has sat idle for more than five years, and that restarting it now puts the lives of people in the Kansai region at risk.

“Major safety components wear out, designs become outdated, and extended disuse creates yet another set of safety problems,” Ulrich said. “Worse, there was a major accident 12 years ago due to a high-pressure pipe rupture that killed five workers.”

Currently, five reactors that are more than 40 years old and one that is 39 years old are to be scrapped over the coming decades, including Kepco’s Mihama No. 1 and 2 reactors.