Kansai Electric to decommission Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Kansai Electric Power Co. will scrap the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at its Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture, citing cost concerns about extending the 40-year-old reactors for another two decades, according to media reports.

Kepco said in a statement Wednesday that the utility has yet to make any formal announcement.

But the decision is expected to be officially endorsed by Kepco’s board of directors Friday, as the utility will face massive refurbishing costs if it seeks the extension, according to reports by several media outlets including Kyodo News.

This will bring to 14 the number of reactors nationwide that have been earmarked for decommissioning since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, including six reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant where three reactors suffered a core meltdown.

Prefectural officials in Fukui offered no official reaction Thursday. But scrapping the reactors is likely to raise concern in the prefecture about safety issues and the effect on the local economy, which has been heavily dependent on various forms of financial subsidies it receives for hosting them.

Local anti-nuclear activists welcomed the move.

“This is Kansai Electric’s admission that aging reactors are not viable. The company should heed its own safety and economic analyses and cease the costly refurbishment of its other aging reactors, Takahama No. 1 and 2 and Mihama No. 3,” said Aileen Mioko Smith of Kyoto-based Green Action.

“I think it’s quite a natural decision for Kepco to make, since applying for a restart would cost a lot of money to comply with the post-Fukushima safety regulations,” said Kazue Suzuki, a member of Greenpeace Japan’s energy team.

“They also face a competitive environment in the electricity market. On top of that, if they decided to restart, there are foreseeable legal challenges that would add to the costs.”

The two Oi reactors generate over 1 gigawatt each and are among the largest of Japan’s reactors that will be decommissioned.

With the Oi reactors approaching four decades of operation in 2019, Kepco faced a decision on whether to scrap them or apply for a one-time, 20-year extension of their operations.

That, however, would have involved additional unknown costs to meet new safety standards that went into effect after 2011.

Kepco calculates the cost of improving safety standards at seven other nuclear reactors, all in Fukui, to be at least ¥830 billion.

The decision to scrap the Oi reactors comes days after Kepco submitted documents to the Nuclear Regulation Authority related to efforts to extend the life of its 41-year-old Mihama No. 3 reactor for another 20 years.

The utility plans to restart that reactor in the winter of 2020. However, it will seek approval from the Fukui prefectural government and towns and villages living within a 30-kilometer radius, a process that could prove problematic due to safety concerns about running an aged reactor.

Last month, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa agreed to the restart of the Oi No. 3 and 4 reactors, which are 26 and 24 years old, in early 2018. In return, he has requested that Kepco build a mid-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel outside the prefecture. Kepco is expected to announce a candidate site for the facility next year.

“Taking into account the views of Oi township, the prefectural assembly, and the Nuclear Regulation Authority regarding a storage facility being built outside of Fukui, I’ve agreed to the restart of the Oi No. 3 and 4 reactors,” Nishikawa said last month.

Kepco previously identified Maizuru and Miyazu in neighboring Kyoto Prefecture as possible sites for storing spent fuel. But opposition in both towns and the prefecture forced the utility to admit two years ago it was not considering either as a candidate.

After Kepco revealed late last month the Oi No. 3 and 4 reactors had used components made by Kobe Steel Ltd., which was found to have falsified inspection data, it was announced that the restarts, scheduled for early next year, would be delayed until the spring due to prolonged safety inspections.

Kepco has already agreed to decommission two other old Mihama reactors, also in Fukui, that went into operation in 1970 and 1972. How, and where highly radioactive nuclear waste generated by the decommissioning of four Kepco reactors will be disposed of is also expected to generate controversy in Fukui and the Kansai region next year.

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