The Yomiuri ShimbunHow was the nuclear plant’s safety improved?
Japan Atomic Power Co. must thoroughly provide information and tenaciously gain the understanding of local authorities and residents as it seeks to restart the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority has approved an extension of the plant’s operation. The nation’s nuclear watchdog decided there were no problems with the plant due to aging, including the reactor. The operational life of domestic nuclear plants is set at 40 years, in principle. If approved by the NRA, this can be extended by up to 20 years.
The end of the Tokai No. 2 plant’s 40-year operational life was due to be reached on Nov. 27. It seems that any decision on the safety of a nuclear plant constructed many years ago requires careful verification.
The NRA already had decided the Tokai No. 2 plant meets the new regulatory standards introduced after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The watchdog’s main screening has now been completed.
The tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 flooded and damaged the Tokai No. 2 plant. A repeat of damage that exceeds expectations is unacceptable. Construction of improved safety measures at the plant will now get into full swing. These include complex projects such as building a robust seawall by using steel piles driven down to a depth of 60 meters underground. Japan Atomic Power aims to complete these projects by the spring of 2021 and resume operations at the nuclear plant.
These plans should be steadily implemented.
All of Japan Atomic Power’s nuclear plants are inactive. The company has financing difficulties. The reactors sitting idle speak volumes about the nuclear plant’s severe situation. As the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has shown a supportive stance for the company, it was judged that the company can secure the money needed for the construction projects. No expense should be spared when it comes to measures that ensure the plant can operate safely.
Central govt’s role key
Other problems abound. Establishing evacuation plans is one issue that must be addressed. Within a 30-kilometer radius of the Tokai No. 2 plant, in which evacuation plans are required to be compiled, about 960,000 people live, the greatest number among all nuclear plant vicinities in Japan. How can confusion be minimized during an evacuation? Devising arrangements to achieve this is making little headway.
It is necessary to draw up realistic evacuation plans with full supports from the government.
Gaining understanding for restarting the plant from the Ibaraki prefectural government and the village of Tokai, where the facility is located, and five neighboring cities, including Mito, also is a thorny problem.
Other nuclear plants can come back online provided they have the approval of only the one municipality in which they are located. The Tokai No. 2 plant is an exception. In line with a demand by the former Tokai mayor, who switched to seeking the abandonment of nuclear power, Japan Atomic Power accepted a new agreement that included giving neighboring municipalities the right to effectively approve reactivation before the nuclear plant resumes operations.
The mayor of one of these cities has already expressed opposition to restarting the nuclear plant. However, it should be remembered that this “right to give approval” is different from a “right to reject” resuming operations at the plant. Cool-headed dialogue is essential.
Widespread blackouts triggered by the powerful earthquake that struck Hokkaido underlined again the importance of ensuring a stable electricity supply. Nuclear power remains, for the time being, one of the baseload power sources for the nation. Although nuclear reactors have restarted in the Kyushu, Shikoku and Kansai regions, eastern Japan continues to have no electricity generated by nuclear plants.
The Tokai No. 2 plant has a large reactor with an output capacity of 1.1 million kilowatts. The government should stand front and center in efforts to make this reactor’s restart a reality.