Japan’s nuclear headache just won’t go away

Japan’s mighty nuclear power plant fleet has been brought to a standstill by just 29 residents, adding millions of dollars to the country’s energy import bill.

Last week, Japanese utility Kansai Electric Power lodged an appeal against a ruling issued by the Otsu district court in Shiga prefecture that ordered the company to shut its 870MW No. 3 reactor immediately and halt work to restart the 870MW No. 4 reactor at Takahama in Fukui prefecture.

Kansai may be forced to keep its two Takahama nuclear reactors closed for several months as it begins a legal battle to resume operations at the plant.  The utility said the ruling to halt its two reactors was “extremely regrettable and utterly unacceptable”.

Kansai will be forced to keep the two Takahama reactors off line until a decision is made, and will face an even longer shutdown if the appeal judge upholds the injunction. It took Kansai eight months to overturn a similar injunction against the Takahama reactors issued in April last year by the separate Fukui district court.

The ruling by the Otsu district court found in favour of 29 residents of Shiga prefecture who live within 70km of the Takahama plant.  Kansai has failed to address residents’ concerns over accident-prevention measures and emergency procedures, the court said, while it also questioned the effectiveness of the firm’s tsunami defences and evacuation procedures.

Kansai restarted the No. 3 reactor on 29 January and the No. 4 reactor on 26 February, after winning safety approval from the nuclear regulation authority (NRA) and obtaining local consent.  But a technical problem forced an automatic shutdown at the No. 4 reactor only three days after it was restarted, with the new court ruling meaning it will now stay off line for months.

Meanwhile, utility Shikoku Electric Power in the south is working to restart the 890MW No. 3 reactor at its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime prefecture, possibly in time for the peak summer power demand season.

But local residents last week filed a fresh petition with the Hiroshima district court seeking the closure of the 2,022MW Ikata plant, which is located around 100km south of Hiroshima across Japan’s inland sea.

Only two of the 43 remaining commercial reactors in Japan are now operating, more than 2½ years since new reactor safety regulations were introduced in July 2013 and five years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.

The post-Fukushima closure of nuclear reactors is likely to have boosted the country’s thermal fuel costs by ¥15 trillion ($132bn) over the last five years.

Most of the Japanese government wants to restart the country’s nuclear reactors.  Some of the residents don’t.  So to the courts, where they will fight it out, raising the prospect of months of legal wrangling.

One thought on “Japan’s nuclear headache just won’t go away

  1. “Most of the Japanese government wants to restart the country’s nuclear reactors” — this is a turn of phrase that could be insightful. It implies that the Japanese government is not monolithic in its feelings about nuclear energy. Parts of it — parts that add up to a majority, according to Kwok Wan — like the idea, and other parts don’t.

    What bee might be in those other parts’ bonnet? Fossil fuel tax revenue, for one. Since 3-11 both the tonnage of such fuels used to make electricity in Japan and the amount the government makes per tonne have largely increased.

    LNG, according to the Japan Times’ September 29, 2012 article “Green tax to come into force in October”, was at that time scheduled for three rate increases starting then. The third is due next month. Happy times for civil servants!

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