Japan Atomic Power to seek restart at all reactors

July 12, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Japan Atomic Power Co. aims to resume operations at all three of its nuclear reactors in order to avoid bankruptcy.

But getting those reactors back online will mean overcoming a mountain of issues: an active fault under a reactor, another aging reactor, and virulent local opposition to any restart of the third reactor.

On July 11, Yasuo Hamada, the company president, held a news conference at which he indicated applications would be submitted with government agencies seeking the resumption of operations at the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture and the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture.

In May, the Nuclear Regulation Authority released a report by an expert panel that said an active fault ran directly under the No. 2 reactor building at Tsuruga. Japan Atomic Power on July 11 submitted its own report challenging the finding.

While Hamada stopped short of specifying when applications for the resumption of operations would be submitted, he said the company would seek to restart all three reactors.

The No. 1 reactor at Tsuruga went into service more than 40 years ago, and there is strong opposition in the local community toward reactivating the Tokai No. 2 plant. Under new safety standards for nuclear reactors, operations can only be extended beyond 40 years after passing a special inspection.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has ordered Japan Atomic Power to submit a report by the end of July on the effects on the spent nuclear fuel at the Tsuruga plant if there were to be movement along the active fault.

Hamada said the company would submit a formal objection under the terms of the administrative appeals law.

The alternative, decommissioning the reactors, would decrease the asset value of the reactor facilities and nuclear fuel to zero, creating a tremendous financial burden that would lead to the collapse of the company.

That devaluation would have to be processed as a loss along with the shortage in the reserve for decommissioning expenses that would normally be accumulated over the course of at least 40 years.

Total estimated losses from decommissioning all three reactors would likely come to 260 billion yen ($2.6 billion).

But as the company only has net assets of about 160 billion yen, it would face excess liabilities if it has to decommission the reactors.

Unless the Nuclear Regulation Authority revises its conclusion about the active fault under the No. 2 reactor building at the Tsuruga plant, there would appear to be little chance of it resuming operations.

Given this state of affairs, an application for a resumption of operations would merely serve as a delaying tactic. If the application were to be rejected, the company would likely submit an administrative lawsuit seeking to overturn that decision. While the courts were looking into the case, the company would be able to buy time before making a decision about decommissioning.

The company has had electric power companies guarantee huge loans that it receives, meaning that those entities would be severely affected should Japan Atomic Power go into bankruptcy.

Another factor at play is the central government, which has not pushed forward with discussions on the possibility of measures such as subsidies being used for decommissioning. This inaction has resulted in little pressure being placed on the electric power companies and Japan Atomic Power to consider decommissioning their reactors.

Meanwhile, Japan Atomic Power on July 11 opened up the Tsuruga plant to reporters to illustrate its contention that no active fault runs directly under the No. 2 reactor building.

One contention made by company officials is that movement along the fault was smaller the closer the fault was to the reactor building. One official claimed that a new study found that the active fault disappeared before directly reaching under the building.

Another new contention made by the company was the existence of volcanic ash that shows the active fault was in an active period earlier than between 120,000 and 130,000 years ago.

Although the Nuclear Regulation Authority would have to carry out an evaluation should Japan Atomic Power submit an application for a resumption of operations, the likelihood that it would approve a restart is very low without a complete revision of its previous position that an active fault runs under the No. 2 reactor building.

For their part, local communities have expressed their concerns about the reactors operated by Japan Atomic Power.

On July 11, Tokai Mayor Tatsuya Murakami said: "President Hamada has never visited the village to personally explain what the company is considering. I cannot find any intention on his part to try to gain the understanding of the local community."

In mid-June, Japan Atomic Power began work at the Tokai No. 2 plant to install venting equipment with filters as well as begin construction of a coastal levee. Village officials protested the move because no explanation was given beforehand. They suspected the move was made with an eye toward eventual resumption of operations.

In the meantime, Tsuruga Mayor Kazuharu Kawase directed his criticism toward the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

He called for another evaluation of the active fault under the Tsuruga plant and asked that a wider range of experts be included in the panel when considering whether an active fault actually existed.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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The No. 2 reactor at the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The No. 2 reactor at the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • The No. 2 reactor at the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • A Japan Atomic Power official explains a finding from a study of the fault at the Tsuruga nuclear power plant. (Toshio Kawada)

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