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Kyushu Electric to scrap No. 2 reactor at Genkai nuclear plant due to cost of safety upgrades at aging site

Kyodo

Kyushu Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it has decided to scrap its aging No. 2 reactor at its Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture.

The utility abandoned a plan to restart the unit, which has an output of 559 megawatts, in the face of the huge costs involved in enhancing the safety of the reactor that is already near the end of its 40-year operating life.

The firm also took into account that it is unable to secure land to build a counterterrorism facility, which is required under Japan’s new nuclear safety rules.

Kyushu Electric President Kazuhiro Ikebe met Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi Wednesday to notify him of the decision.

“Even if the plant is decommissioned, it doesn’t mean the nuclear fuel or radioactive materials will disappear immediately,” Yamaguchi said. “We hope you will be absolutely sure about securing safety.”

The move had been a focus of attention as the firm needed to apply to extend the unit’s operations by March 2020, a year before it would reach its operating limit.

The reactor, which started operating in March 1981, has been idled since a routine checkup shortly before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster that triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The Genkai plant consists of four units. The utility already decided in 2015 to scrap its aging No. 1 unit, which had the same output capacity as the No. 2 reactor. Decommissioning work at the No. 1 reactor started in July 2017 and is expected to continue through fiscal 2043.

Kyushu Electric restarted the newer Nos. 3 and 4 reactors, which each have an output of 1,180 megawatts, in 2018, after securing approval under the stricter safety rules introduced in the wake of the core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Aside from the reactors at the Fukushima plant, decommissioning of 10 reactors at seven plants in Japan has already been decided since the Nuclear Regulation Authority introduced the new rules. Genkai’s No. 2 unit will be the 11th such reactor.

There have been a number of operational problems at the Genkai power plant. In May last year, pumps installed to control the circulation of cooling water at the No. 4 unit suffered malfunctions, following a steam leak from a pipe at the No. 3 reactor just a week after it was reactivated in March.

Some local residents have sought to stop operation of the Nos. 3 and 4 units with a temporary injunction, with doubts about the safety measures taken and citing the risk of volcanic eruptions in the region. Their case is pending at the Fukuoka High Court.

Last month, Kyushu Electric reported its group net profit had dropped to ¥26.69 billion ($241 million) in the April-December period, down 63.8 percent from the year before, as costs for a regular check at another nuclear plant weighed on its balance sheet.

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