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The mayor of the town of Takahama in Fukui Prefecture granted permission Monday for the restart of the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama Nuclear Power Plant, becoming the first local leader in the nation to approve use of nuclear reactors more than 40 years old. The Takahama No. 1 reactor is 46 years old and the No. 2 reactor is 45.

Kepco will now seek restart approval from the prefectural government. But with questions still unanswered about where spent fuel generated by the reactors will be stored, it is unclear whether the utility’s plans to have both reactors online this spring can be realized.

Monday’s formal approval came after Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose called on the central government, in an online meeting Friday with industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, to provide assistance to the town and received assurance that it would. Kajiyama said the government wanted to provide the maximum amount of support possible, and was aligned with what Takahama was seeking in terms of a local revitalization policy.

“The use of nuclear power is indispensable for the stable supply of electricity, and the government’s role is to move things forward in that regard,” Kajiyama said during their meeting.

Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture | KYODO
Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture | KYODO

In exchange for granting restart permission, Nose asked the central government to raise the amount of funding it provides the town for hosting the Takahama plant, which has four reactors in total, as well as for various local projects.

While not legally required, local approval for reactor restarts by utilities is established policy, and local government heads often negotiate on financial assistance measures before giving their decision. The Takahama Municipal Assembly approved the restart of the reactors in November.

Kepco wants to restart the No. 1 reactor in March and the No. 2 reactor in May at the earliest. With Nose giving the green light, the utility will next seek approval from the Fukui Prefectural Assembly and Fukui Gov. Tatsuji Sugimoto — but that could prove more problematic.

Sugimoto has said that in order for him to give his approval, Kepco will need to indicate where, outside Fukui Prefecture, it plans to build a midterm storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. But with no other localities willing to host such a facility, Kepco has yet to do that.

Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama (on screen, left) meets online with Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose (front and on screen, right) in the town of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, on Friday. | KYODO
Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama (on screen, left) meets online with Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose (front and on screen, right) in the town of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, on Friday. | KYODO

In December, the Federation of Electric Power Companies, which consists of 10 major utilities including Kepco, proposed that a storage facility in the city of Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, scheduled to go into operation during fiscal 2021 be used jointly for midterm spent fuel storage. However, Mutsu Mayor Soichiro Miyashita said he would never allow Kepco’s spent fuel to be stored there.

The interim facility, Recyclable-Fuel Storage Co., was established by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Japan Atomic Power Co. to store spent fuel from their reactors only. The fuel is scheduled to remain there for up to 50 years before it must be transferred to a final disposal facility.

In addition to the Takahama reactors, Kepco hopes to restart its Mihama No. 3 reactor in the town of Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, which is 44 years old. But the Fukui governor also wants to know where spent fuel from that reactor will be contained — again, outside the prefecture. Kepco apologized to Sugimoto in December for not being able to offer a report on where such spent fuel would be sent.

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