Newly elected Kagoshima Governor Satoshi Mitazono on Aug. 26 asked Kyushu Electric Power Co. to immediately shut down two reactors at its Sendai nuclear power plant for a fresh safety inspection. The two reactors at the Sendai plant in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, are the only ones online in Japan.
Mitazono asked the utility to expand its support for the local government’s plans for emergency evacuations during severe nuclear accidents while rigorously inspecting the plant equipment and systems.
Mitazono’s move was a response to public concerns about the safety of the plant following a series of earthquakes that rocked neighboring Kumamoto Prefecture in April.
A prefectural governor has no power to order the suspension of the operation of an online reactor. But while stumping for the July election, Mitazono promised a temporary halt to the Sendai reactors. The incumbent had allowed the reactors to be restarted.
Kyushu Electric ought to embrace the safety concerns that the governor has raised.
Mitazono cited seven priority items for the inspection of the equipment he requested, including the reactor pressure vessel and the containment vessel. He also called on the utility to investigate active faults around the nuclear plant and provide accurate information with regard to the safety of the reactors in a timely manner so as to prevent any erosion of trust between local residents and the operator.
In asking the utility to step up its support for the evacuation plans, Mitazono referred to the views and opinions he heard during his inspection of roads and medical and welfare facilities around the plant.
The steps envisioned by Mitazono are necessary for preventing nuclear accidents and minimizing damage when an accident does occur.
Kyushu Electric responded to Mitazono’s requests by saying it will “carefully check their content and deal with them.”
But the company has shown no sign of changing its position that the safety concerns are groundless, as the reactors were brought back on stream after clearing safety checks by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
But the situation changed dramatically after a string of earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture, including two powerful temblors that registered a maximum of 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale.
The company should realize that this created huge anxiety among local residents and prompted Mitazono to make his request.
Even though Mitazono is not empowered to make the utility accept his requests, both central authorities and the electric power industry are sufficiently alarmed that the head of the government of a prefecture where a nuclear plant is located has called for a halt to the operations of reactors.
The prevailing view is that Kyushu Electric will refuse to shut down the reactors right now and continue operating them until their next regular inspections, which are slated for October and December, respectively.
After the regular inspections, however, the utility will find it difficult to restart the reactors if the governor refuses to approve it because of the company’s unsatisfactory response to his requests.
It seems the only option for Kyushu Electric is to offer convincing answers to the safety concerns Mitazono has raised.
Mitazono is not alone in voicing concerns about the safety of nuclear reactors. Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida has taken a critical view of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plan to restart two of the seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture.
It is still fresh in our memory that the Otsu District Court in March ordered Kansai Electric Power Co. to shut down two reactors at its Takahama plant that had just been brought back online.
Is the electric power industry willing to make sincere responses to these warnings about nuclear safety from local government and the judiciary?
How Kyushu Electric responds to Mitazono’s requests will be a litmus test of the industry’s attitude.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 27