[Mainichi]Japan to restart 2 reactors for 1st time since Fukushima crisis

Following up this article..11,000 people joined demonstration in front of official residence of JP PM

 

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TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Japanese government on Saturday approved the resumption of operation of two nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture amid concerns over the safety of atomic power generation following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced the decision shortly after he was informed by Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa that the prefecture would accept the restart of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co.

“Having won local consent, reactivating the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant is now the government’s final decision,” Noda said. “We are determined to make further efforts to restore people’s trust in nuclear policy and safety regulations.”

Earlier Saturday, Nishikawa conveyed his consent for the restart in a meeting with Noda and some Cabinet members at the premier’s office, saying he had made the decision to help “ensure the stability of people’s lives and industries in Kansai,” the region which consumes electricity from the Oi plant.

While concerns remain over safety issues, the two Oi reactors are set to become the first in the country to be restarted since the Fukushima nuclear crisis erupted last year, triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan.

Outside the prime minister’s office Saturday, hundreds of people gathered amid a heavy police presence to express opposition to the reactors’ restart and called on the government to make a decision to abandon nuclear power.

Opponents criticize the government’s move to restart the reactors based on provisional safety standards it set up before the establishment of a new nuclear regulatory body and also before fully looking into the cause of the Fukushima accident.

The crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has dented public trust in the government’s nuclear power policy and prevented the restart of reactors shut down for regular checkups.

Since the last of the 50 operational commercial reactors in Japan went offline on May 6 for checks, all reactors in the country have stopped operating for the first time since 1970, raising concerns over power shortages this summer.

Before the Fukushima crisis, nuclear power used to supply about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity.

Power supply is expected to be particularly tight in Kansai Electric’s service area in western Japan centering on Osaka as the utility derived about half of electricity from nuclear power before the Fukushima crisis. The Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant have the biggest electricity output capacity among the company’s reactors.

Reactivation of the two Oi reactors is estimated to ease the power shortage in the area this summer from 14.9 percent to break-even, according to a government panel’s estimates based on 2010 power consumption.

As such, the government will consider lowering its 15 percent power-saving request for this summer in Kansai Electric’s service area.

But tight power supply will continue for the time being as it is expected to take about six weeks for both of the reactors to be in full operation, missing the July 2 start of the government’s power-saving drive aimed at preventing a summer power crunch.

Given the government’s approval, Kansai Electric began preparative steps Saturday afternoon for bringing the Oi reactors back on line.

Kansai Electric President Makoto Yagi said in Osaka that the No. 3 unit’s operation is likely to reach full capacity on July 8 and the No. 4 unit on July 24, both at the earliest, and pledged that top priority will be placed on ensuring safety.

During the meeting with Noda and his ministers in Tokyo, Nishikawa asked the government to urge the public to accept the restart and help nurture necessary human resources to ensure nuclear safety. Fukui hosts 14 reactors, the most among the nation’s 47 prefectures.

The Fukui governor, who has been seeking the establishment somewhere outside the prefecture of an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel currently stored at nuclear power plants, also said Fukui “cannot accept spent fuel” on top of providing sites for nuclear power generation.

In response to the governor’s requests, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano, whose portfolio includes the nuclear power sector, said, “We take them seriously and will deal with them sincerely.”

Since mid-April when Noda and related ministers confirmed the safety of the Oi reactors, the government had been seeking approval for their restart from Fukui Prefecture and Oi coastal town where the plant is located.

Backing the government’s aim for the restart, governors and mayors in western Japan backed off from their earlier opposition in late May, and the Union of Kansai Governments effectively gave consent for the reactivation. Oi Mayor Shinobu Tokioka on Thursday declared his support for the restart.

The two reactors at the Oi plant would be the first to be reactivated among the 50 reactors after clearing the government’s new safety assessment process introduced in the wake of the Fukushima crisis to address concerns over nuclear safety in earthquake-prone Japan.

Reactors likely to be considered next to restart include the No. 3 unit of Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, which has already won the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency’s approval of its first-round stress test results.

The Nos. 1 and 2 units of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari plant in Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido may also be among them, given strong heating demand in winter there. But prospects for restarting reactors other than those in Oi are still uncertain.

In the Fukushima crisis, the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered meltdowns, making it the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

June 16, 2012(Mainichi Japan)

 

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