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Tsunami-hit nuclear plant near Tokyo wins formal restart approval

  • September 26, 2018
  • , Kyodo News , 2:21 p.m.
  • English Press

Japan’s nuclear watchdog on Wednesday formally approved the restart of an almost 40-year-old nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo, idled since it was hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster that also caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

 

The Tokai No. 2 plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, operated by Japan Atomic Power Co., is the first nuclear plant affected by the disaster to clear screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

 

But it is unclear when the plant will actually restart as construction work to enhance its safety will not be completed until March 2021. It also still needs to obtain consent from all of its host and surrounding municipalities. It is the sole nuclear power plant in Japan to need consent from local governments beyond its immediate host.

 

In addition, the sole reactor in the complex turns 40 years old in November, and faces two more screenings to extend operation for up to 20 years beyond the 40-year age limit. It is expected to pass the screenings.

 

The plant has yet to compile an evacuation plan covering 960,000 residents within a 30-kilometer radius — the largest number of potential evacuees for a nuclear plant in Japan due to its location in the metropolitan region.

 

The earthquake on March 11, 2011, left the Tokai plant without an external power source, and a 5.4-meter tsunami incapacitated one of its three emergency power generators. The plant managed to cool down its reactor over three and a half days after the disaster as the two other power generators remained intact.

 

The Fukushima plant, which used the same boiling water reactor as the Tokai plant, suffered core meltdowns and spewed a massive amount of radioactive materials after losing its external power supply and emergency power generators in the calamity.

 

Protestors gathered in front of the NRA office in Tokyo in the morning and shouted slogans against the Tokai plant’s restart.

 

Some civic group members submitted to the watchdog a letter calling for a decision against the plant resumption with the signatures of some 8,000 people. “A plant that passes a lax screening is not safe,” the letter said.

 

Sengetsu Ogawa, 54, a local antinuclear activist in Ibaraki Prefecture, said, “I have doubts about the way the NRA conducts screenings as it is believed to rubber stamp operators’ applications (for restarts).”

 

“Japan has been rocked by major disasters such as floods and earthquakes for the past two months. Based on these circumstances, the NRA should conduct a screening again,” he said.

 

Tokai No. 2 is the eighth nuclear plant approved by the NRA to restart under stricter safety rules introduced after the Fukushima disaster.

 

Among plants with boiling water reactors, the same type as the Fukushima Daiichi units, it is the second to be given the green light following the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear complex run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., the operator of the crisis-hit plant.

 

Japan Atomic Power applied for the restart in May 2014 with a plan to construct a 1.7-km-long coastal levee, predicting a potential tsunami as high as 17.1 meters.

 

With costs for safety measures at the plant estimated to reach some 180 billion yen ($1.6 billion), the operator, which is solely engaged in the nuclear energy business, has been struggling as none of its reactors has been online since the 2011 disaster.

 

Tokyo Electric and Tohoku Electric Power Co., which receive power supply from Tokai No. 2, have offered to financially support Japan Atomic Power.

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