National

Kepco restarts second Takahama reactor as Greenpeace warns of French MOX fuel shipment

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Kansai Electric Power Co. restarted its Takahama No. 3 reactor Tuesday afternoon, bringing to five the number of nuclear reactors nationwide that have come back online since the March 11, 2011, triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

“Today marks an important step in the process to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors. It does not mark the end of efforts to ensure the safety of nuclear power, and we’ll continue to make safety our top priority,” said Kepco President Shigeki Iwane shortly after the 2 p.m. restart.

The No. 3 restart comes less than a month after Kepco turned its No. 4 reactor back on. It also came on the heels of reports that a shipment of uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel will arrive in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, in a few months from France for use in the No. 4 reactor next year.

Kepco’s push to fire up the 32-year-old Takahama reactors came with promises it would reduce electricity bills. Electricity from the No. 4 reactor, which went back online last month, will go on sale late next week. Electricity from the No. 3 reactor is expected to be sold from early July, during the hottest part of the summer when electricity demand peaks.

Kepco’s return to nuclear power generation, which accounted for nearly half of its electricity prior to March 11, 2011, takes place as renewable energy sources slowly gain ground.

According to one recent expert tally, renewable energy, including large-scale hydropower, accounted for 14.5 percent of total domestic power generation capacity in fiscal 2015 through March 2016.

In “Sustainable Zone 2016,” a joint analysis of Japan’s renewable energy situation by Chiba University professor Hidefumi Kurasaka and the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, it was also noted that during the first half of fiscal 2016, the average ratio of renewable energy produced by the nation’s 10 utilities increased to 15.7 percent of total electricity demand. But the ratio of renewable energy, including large-scale hydropower, at Hokkaido Electric Power Co. and Hokuriku Electric Power Co. reached 32 percent during that same period.

The government’s official energy policy calls for renewables to account for between 22 and 24 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030 and for nuclear power to generate between 20 and 22 percent, on average.

On Tuesday, Greenpeace revealed that plans are moving forward to ship at least 496 kg of plutonium from France in the form of 16 MOX fuel assemblies to Japan for use in the Takahama No. 4 reactor when it is reloaded next year. Greenpeace estimates the shipment will depart Cherbourg, France, early next month and — assuming there are no delays — arrive in Takahama sometime between mid-August and early September.

“Kepco’s unjustified restart of the Takahama 3 reactor is made worse by the fact that they are planning a secret plutonium shipment which will increase the amount of dangerous plutonium MOX in their reactors,” said Shaun Burnie, a Japan-based senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany. “The Takahama reactors already pose an unacceptable threat to the people of Fukui and Kansai region. This will be compounded by the even greater usage of plutonium MOX fuel.”