Radiation forecast creates hurdle in resuming nuclear plant operations

October 25, 2012


Municipalities are demanding a greater say in whether utilities can restart their reactors after the new industry watchdog placed more communities in the danger zone of possible nuclear accidents.

Electric power companies, however, appear reluctant to accept those demands.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Oct. 24 released a radiation forecast that showed many more municipalities would be at risk of high levels of radiation exposure from nuclear plants hit by an accident similar to the one at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

"Realistically, it will be difficult to operate nuclear power plants without the consent of local governments,” Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said at an Oct. 24 news conference.

Currently, electric power companies only seek the consent of the prefectural government and municipalities that host the nuclear power plants. But under the new radiation forecast, many more local governments will have to compile disaster management plans for areas that could require evacuation.

The utilities may be forced to negotiate with these local governments if they want to restart reactors at their plants.

"It has been shown scientifically that damages would be extensive in the event of an accident,” Bunpei Takemoto, mayor of Nanao in Ishikawa Prefecture, said after the forecast was released. “There will be the need for authority similar to those given to municipalities that host nuclear plants."

After the Fukushima nuclear accident, which started on March 11 last year, the Nanao municipal government asked Hokuriku Electric Power Co. for a safety agreement that would require Nanao’s consent to restart reactors at the Shika nuclear plant, located in neighboring Shika town.

Other local governments sought safety agreements with utilities operating nuclear plants in their vicinity. These calls are expected to increase with the NRA’s latest report.

The new forecast found that Shiga Prefecture could face exposure to radiation if an accident occurred at the Oi nuclear plant operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. in neighboring Fukui Prefecture.

"I want Kansai Electric to realize the irrationality of setting borders based only on local government units,’’ Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada said. “I hope it will sign agreements that are in line with the damage forecast."

But an official with Kansai Electric, which operates 11 reactors in Fukui Prefecture, said the company has no such plans.

"We will not be able to deal with the host municipalities and those municipalities that are located outside those hosts in a similar manner,” the official said. “We have no intention of simply expanding the range of local governments involved because that would mean playing down the importance of the host municipalities."

Chubu Electric Power Co. has signed a safety agreement with the Shizuoka prefectural government and four municipal governments that lie within a 10-kilometer radius of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant.

However, the NRA is considering expanding the area in which local governments must prepare disaster management plans for nuclear accidents to a 30-km radius.

After the Fukushima meltdowns, municipalities in Shizuoka Prefecture that lie with 30 km of the Hamaoka plant asked Chubu Electric if they could also sign safety agreements.

But a utility official said after the new forecast was released, "The historical background is very different from the four municipalities with whom we have had such agreements for many years."

The new forecast also affects companies operating near the nuclear plants.

Suzuki Motor Corp.’s factory in Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture, manufactures all engines for its cars produced in Japan—and lies 13 km north of the Hamaoka plant.

After the dangers of radiation were exposed by the Fukushima nuclear accident, the automaker started moving about 30 percent of its production capacity outside the city from this summer.

"The area around the Hamaoka plant also contains many subcontractors of other automakers,” Osamu Suzuki, chairman and CEO of Suzuki Motor, said. “The manufacturing sector in the Chubu region would be devastated if a nuclear accident occurred."

Also lying within a 30-km radius of the Hamaoka plant is part of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line as well as sections of the Tomei and Shin-Tomei expressways.

However, Central Japan Railway Co., which operates the bullet train line, has no manual to deal with a possible nuclear accident.

Central Nippon Expressway Co. also lacked manuals, but has begun considering measures using a manual drawn up for the Hokuriku Expressway that runs through Fukui Prefecture.

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Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, responds to questions from reporters on Oct. 24. (Jun Kaneko)

Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, responds to questions from reporters on Oct. 24. (Jun Kaneko)

  • Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, responds to questions from reporters on Oct. 24. (Jun Kaneko)
  • The Asahi Shimbun

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