OSAKA - With 13 commercial nuclear reactors — more than any other prefecture — Fukui has long been Japan’s nuclear power capital. Prior to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Fukui’s plants provided up to half of Kansai’s electricity.
As only two commercial reactors run by Kansai Electric Power Co. are in operation and a total of five Fukui reactors are scheduled to be decommissioned by midcentury, the prefecture’s days as a nuclear power center might appear to be ending. But despite the growing use of renewables, entrenched public opposition to atomic power, and unanswered questions about its future costs and economic competitiveness, Fukui’s nuclear-friendly utility executives and corporate leaders, as well as local politicians, have not given up on the idea of building even more reactors.
Earlier this month, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa met with Kepco President Shigeki Iwane and Mamoru Muramatsu, the president of Japan Atomic Power Co., which runs two reactors at the Tsuruga plant in Fukui — including one scheduled for decommissioning.
They discussed building new reactors at Tsuruga — which have long been planned — and replacing Kepco’s decommissioned reactors with new ones. The meeting took place amid a review of the nation’s energy mix.
“What needs to be done by midcentury? We need to make this clear in the nation’s energy plans as we look to 2050,” Iwane said at a news conference afterward.
A couple of weeks later, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko told reporters that even without building new reactors or replacing old ones, Japan could meet its national goal of having atomic power provide between 20 and 22 percent of all electricity by 2030.
Nishikawa, traditionally a staunch supporter of nuclear power plants and the subsidies his prefecture receives for hosting them, has so far avoided coming out directly in favor of building new reactors.
He told reporters at the end of 2017 that he wasn’t going to wade into the debate of whether it was a good or bad idea. Instead, he said he was waiting for the central government’s view.
“The government needs to make clear what its stance is on new reactors. The main problem is gaining social trust for the use of nuclear power,” Nishikawa said.
That could be difficult. A survey by the Fukui Shimbun in October showed that 49.8 percent of respondents favored slowly exiting from nuclear power. Gaining national and local approval to build new reactors could take years.
Yet even if construction of new Tsuruga reactors goes ahead, it will likely be years, possibly decades, before they are completed at an unknown cost. In the interim, the use of renewables is expected to expand even more. Furthermore, as Japan’s population declines and uses more innovative energy-efficient products, predicting electricity needs in 10 — let alone 30 or so — years from now is problematic at best.
Adding reactors in Fukui will certainly increase the electricity supply for Kansai. But what pro-nuclear politicians and businesses in Fukui want now is assurances from Tokyo that they will still financially benefit from new reactors even if their output may not be needed or wanted by consumers.