EDITORIAL | Expectations are high as Japan resumes operation of 40-year-old nuclear reactor

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Kansai Electric Power’s Mihama nuclear power plant, in operation for more than 40 years with a capacity of 826 MW, was put back into service on June 23.

This is the first resumption of operation of a reactor more than four decades old since the entry into force of the “40-year rule” following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in March. 2011 from Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO).

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The rule limits the life of a nuclear reactor to 40 years of service, with a maximum extension of 20 years. Power transmission restarted on June 29 and, if all goes well, it will go into commercial operation at the end of July.

Until Mihama, only nine of the country’s 33 reactors had resumed operations. Others had been shut down since 2018, when four reactors were restarted.

With the reactivation of the Mihama n ° 3 unit, commissioned in 1976, the number of reactors in operation will rise to double digits. This is a step forward towards guaranteeing a stable electricity supply for the country and reducing greenhouse gases, as provided for in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

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There is also the case of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear complex of Japan Atomic Power Co. in Tokaimura village, Ibaraki prefecture. There, opposition from residents prevented restarting the reactor, even though it successfully passed the safety review of the Nuclear regulatory authority (NRA), Japan’s nuclear watchdog. We welcome the forward-looking measures taken by the city of Mihama and the prefecture of Fukui to pave the way for the resumption of electricity production.

A group of protesters against the reopening mingle with journalists and onlookers.

Delays in restarting nuclear reactors and reduced thermal energy production have combined to strain the country’s power supply. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has warned that Japan’s power reserve in the Kansai region during peak power demand periods will decline by about 3.8% in August 2021 and around 3% in February 2022.

Given the circumstances, the resumption of Mihama’s No.3 reactor, which contributes to the country’s basic electricity supply, is certainly good news. However, construction work on the implementation of the reactor counterterrorism measures has been delayed. The operation of the reactor must be suspended if it does not meet the legal deadline of 25 October. Unfortunately, this will contribute to an increased risk of power outages over large areas if the heavy snowfall and other severe winter weather conditions seen last winter are repeated.

At the same time, failure to meet the deadline will not necessarily lead to an immediate change in the terrorist risk for the reactor. Should the government not review its regulatory system and ensure that it is flexible enough to weigh the delay in construction against the realistic danger of major blackouts due to power cuts?

The extension of the operation of aging reactors is also practiced in countries such as the United States and France to upgrade existing reactors. Extending reactor life is particularly important in Japan, where adding new nuclear reactors has become difficult since the Fukushima disaster. Kansai Electric, for its part, is well aware of this. There can be no recurrence of nuclear energy scandals.

The government should clearly integrate the use of aging reactors into the Basic Energy Plan as it prepares its reviews.

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(Lily The Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun



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