Chubu Electric Power Co. has filed an application with the Nuclear Regulation Authority for a safety assessment for the No. 4 reactor at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture as a step to restart the idle reactor.
But the Hamaoka plant must not be brought back online. The decision on whether to allow the utility to reactivate any reactor at the plant requires a consideration of factors that are beyond the scope of the nuclear safety watchdog’s assessment. The government should exercise leadership to decommission all the reactors at the plant as part of its national risk management.
There are clear reasons for pulling the plug on the Hamaoka plant.
The Hamaoka plant is located within an area where the so-called Nankai Trough mega-quake is expected to occur. It is simply impossible to foresee what kind of damage such a gargantuan earthquake in the area would cause. There is a frightening possibility of multiple disasters.
We should start with this assumption that something unexpected will happen in such a large-scale disaster. As a nation that has suffered from the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, we have an obligation to make a fresh, rigorous review of the necessity of nuclear power generation for our society and make serious efforts to minimize the risks involved.
More than 80,000 people were living in the areas subject to an evacuation order after the onset of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. About 860,000 people are currently living within 30 kilometers of the Hamaoka plant. The local governments of municipalities within a 30-km radius of a nuclear power plant, or the central government-designated Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone, are required to develop evacuation plans for possible emergencies. But it is effectively impossible to evacuate all these people in an emergency.
The Hamaoka plant is located close to a major transportation hub, with the Tomei Expressway, the Shin-Tomei Expressway and the Tokaido Shinkansen line all running nearby. Every day, enormous numbers of people and goods travel through these trunk lines. If high levels of radiation are leaked from the plant, major traffic arteries connecting business centers in eastern and western Japan would be disrupted, potentially paralyzing the entire Japanese economy. Legions of manufacturers, mainly companies in the auto industry, are located close to the Hamaoka plant. A serious accident at the plant could have a tremendous global economic fallout.
That is why it is said that the Hamaoka plant stands where it should not be in the first place.
Restarting the reactor requires the consent of the local communities. Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu remains cautious about endorsing the idea. The four cities with which Chubu Electric Power has a safety agreement are also reluctant to give the required go-ahead to the utility’s plan to bring the reactor back online. The Makinohara municipal assembly, for instance, has passed a resolution calling for “an indefinite suspension” of reactor operations at the plant “as long as there is no guarantee of complete safety and security.”
There are also concerns that the potential safety risks posed by the nuclear plant could deter businesses from locating their operations in surrounding areas or create unfounded rumors and perceptions among consumers that could be damaging to local farm products.
The decision to decommission the Hamaoka plant would deliver a blow to the bottom line of Chubu Electric Power. The government needs to take various policy measures to provide support to the utility to cushion the impact of closing the plant on the company’s financial health.
Fortunately, the company is less dependent on atomic energy than other electric power suppliers, with nuclear plants accounting for just 10.6 percent of its power generation facilities. As a result, the increases in electricity rates charged by the company made in response to increased fuel costs due to the shutdowns of nuclear reactors have been relatively smaller.
Because of its lower dependence on nuclear power, Chubu Electric Power has made some different strategic moves, such as building a pipeline to receive gas from Osaka Gas Co. and announcing a plan to sell electricity within the region served by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Chubu Electric Power has the potential to increase its competitiveness amid the planned power market deregulation in the coming years.
Instead of insisting on restarting the reactors at the Hamaoka plant, the utility should see the current situation as an opportunity to turn the burden into a blessing.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 15
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