UPDATE: Amid protests, No. 3 reactor at Oi plant reaches criticality

July 02, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

OI, Fukui Prefecture--As scuffles broke out between riot police and protesters, Kansai Electric Power Co. removed the control rods at the No. 3 reactor of the Oi nuclear plant, enabling it to reach criticality on July 2.

If the process continues as scheduled, nuclear power generation will start on July 4, sending electricity to parts of the Kansai region and Fukui Prefecture, KEPCO said. The reactor--the first to be restarted since the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in March last year--is expected to reach its full capacity of 1.18 gigawatts on July 8 at the earliest.

At 9 p.m. on July 1, KEPCO began to remove the control rods separating the fuel bundles at the No. 3 reactor, leading to a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction around 6 a.m. on July 2.

The resulting boiling water will emit steam that turns the turbines to generate electricity. KEPCO is now reducing the concentration of boron in the water in the reactor to heighten output.

“While public opinion is divided on the pros and cons, we, the government, could not avoid the restart when we thought about Japan’s reality and the future,” Seishu Makino, a senior vice industry minister, said at a news conference after the restart.

Makino and KEPCO Vice President Hideki Toyomatsu were in the central control room of the Oi nuclear plant when the control rods were removed.

“Most Japanese people think that Japan should try to establish a nuclear-free society from a middle- and long-term perspective. The government also thinks so,” Makino said. “But the government’s idea is different from the thinking that Japan should immediately become a nuclear-free country.”

Makino’s news conference was held after more than 300 anti-nuclear protesters filled the only road leading to the Oi nuclear plant.

“In order to block the restart, there is no other way except for blockading the road,” Kazue Morizono, a 50-year-old from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, said.

At 5:30 p.m., Fukui prefectural riot police began ordering the protesters to open the road, saying, “The blockade constitutes an illegal occupation.”

At 5:45 p.m., police tried to forcibly remove the people from the area. However, the protesters resisted.

Amid shouts of “we are against violence,” pushing and shoving occurred between the protesters and police.

While the demonstration was going on, KEPCO President Yagi Makoto entered the Oi nuclear plant from the sea on a boat.

Anti-nuclear demonstrations have been held around the country since the accident started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March last year, including recent rallies involving thousands of people gathered outside the prime minister’s office in Tokyo.

On May 5 this year, Hokkaido Electric Power Co. suspended operations of the No. 3 reactor at Tomari nuclear power plant for regular inspections, leaving Japan with all 50 of its reactors offline until the No. 3 reactor was restarted at the Oi plant.

KEPCO will continue to operate the No. 3 reactor until autumn 2013, when the next regular inspection is scheduled.

The company also plans to restart the No. 4 reactor at the Oi nuclear plant on July 17 to begin power generation on July 20.

The central government regards the period from the resumption of the reactors to the start of their full operations as “an important stage from the viewpoint of safety.”

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Oi nuclear plant operators monitor the No. 3 reactor from a center control room at 6 a.m. on July 2. (Provided by KEPCO)

Oi nuclear plant operators monitor the No. 3 reactor from a center control room at 6 a.m. on July 2. (Provided by KEPCO)

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  • Oi nuclear plant operators monitor the No. 3 reactor from a center control room at 6 a.m. on July 2. (Provided by KEPCO)
  • Protesters refuse police orders to open up the only road leading to the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture on July 1. (Shinnosuke Ito)
  • Riot police try to remove anti-nuclear protesters near the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture on July 1. (Shinnosuke Ito)
  • Protesters from the Kanto region express their opposition to the restart of the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, on July 1 with banners saying "Promoting nuclear power generation deprives us of our future." (Ryo Ikeda)
  • Protesters express their opposition to the restart of the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, on July 1 by blocking a road leading to the plant. (Shinnosuke Ito)
  • Protesters express their opposition to the restart of the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, on June 30 by blocking a road leading to the plant. (Rie Yamada)
  • Protesters confront riot police officers in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, on June 30. The tunnel seen in the background leads to the Oi nuclear power plant. (Rie Yamada)
  • Protesters scuffle with riot police officers in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, on June 30. (Keibu Horikawa)

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