National

Reactor at trouble-hit Genkai nuclear facility in Saga Prefecture comes back online

Kyodo

A reactor at the trouble-hit Genkai nuclear power station in Saga Prefecture was restarted Saturday for the first time in more than 6½ years despite lingering safety concerns.

The No. 4 unit at the Genkai plant is Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s fourth, and the nation’s ninth, to go back online since stricter safety rules were adopted following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The utility aims to generate and supply electricity starting Wednesday, before resuming commercial operations in mid-July.

The restart was greeted by protests as around 100 people gathered in front of the atomic plant to express their opposition.

Hajime Aoki, an 80-year-old farmer who lives about 6 km away from the plant, said: “Everyone knows that nuclear plants are dangerous. If I think about the Fukushima nuclear accident, I certainly cannot agree to this.”

Recognizing the opposition, Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi promised to deal with the issue seriously, while Kyushu Electric President Michiaki Uriu separately said that operations would proceed with “safety as a top priority.”

At the same time, some residents said that while safety was a major concern, they could see the economic benefits of hosting atomic power plants.

The Genkai complex was mired in trouble in the lead-up to the restart.

In May, pumps installed to control coolant circulation at the No. 4 unit malfunctioned. This came after the No. 3 reactor was hit by a leaky steam pipe just a week after the unit was reactivated in March.

Kyushu Electric estimates the two restarts will save it ¥11 billion per month by reducing its reliance on thermal power generation.

The No. 4 unit was cleared to go back online by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in January 2017 after complying with the tougher rules imposed after the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011, when it was swamped by tsunami from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

But some residents opposed to the Genkai nuclear plant have questioned the validity of the safety standards in light of the frequent volcanic eruptions in the region.

In March, the Saga District Court rejected a request for an injunction against the plant’s restart.