Shikoku Electric Power has decided to decommission Ikata’s Unit 1.

Original Japanese written by  staffer
The English below written and arranged by Heeday, based on the original Japanese
The English edited by Rev. Dr. Henry French, ELCA

Below: Articles from the March 26th, 2016 editions of the Fukushima Minpo and Akahata newspapers

▼Click each image to read an English summary of the Japanese article.

On March 25th, 2016, Shikoku Electric Power decided to decommission Unit 1 of its Ikata Nuclear Power Plant (located in Ikata, Ehime Pref., some 250 miles WSW of Osaka) this coming May. The unit would be into its 40th year of operation in 2017. The power company has submitted a notice of the decision to decommission Unit 1 to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The residents around the nuclear power plant (NPP), however, are raising their voices: “The decision has come much too late. The remaining units should be decommissioned as well.”

Goliath money for Li’l David power
If Shikoku Electric wished to extend Unit 1’s operation, it would have to meet the legal requirement of submitting an application to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), by this September, a year before the reactor reaches its legal life of 40 years. The power company has been considering such an extension of Unit 1. However, this unit has a small power output (566,000 kW) and the extension work is estimated to cost more than JPY170 billion. Thus, the company has given up on the extension. Following the meltdown of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi, the Japanese government set up a new regulation, stating that a reactor can operate only for up to 40 years. Under this new regulation, last spring five reactors received the verdict of decommissioning. Ikata Unit 1 has become the sixth.

Feeding 30 Goliaths—would it make sense?
The government is proposing a mix of power sources (“best mix”), which says nuclear power should supply 20 to 22% of the total power demand in FY2030. This means some 30 reactors would need to be operating then. Still, the safety measures for them are monstrous, which could prevent many reactor restarts. Consequently, this “best mix” will be nothing more than a castle in the air.

The other units
At the same time, Shikoku Electric, on the same day, March 25th, submitted to the NRA an application for a pre-use inspection for Unit 3 of Ikata. This inspection is the final procedure to be taken before restarting a reactor. This unit “met” the new safety regulations last July. Those regulations are part of the requirements for a reactor restart. Its owner, Shikoku Electric, plans to restart Unit 3 late July, this year. The company is also considering a restart of Unit 2 as well.

After the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, Japan’s government amended the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law and set the basic operation period of a reactor at 40 years. An extension of up to 20 years might be granted, provided the mandatory safety measures, such as flame retarding of power cables, are correctly taken. The NRA examines if such measures have been appropriately taken, in compliance with the amended legal standard, before the reactor in question can be restarted.

Money, or life?
Many of the NPP’s equipment and facilities run under severe conditions of high temperatures and pressures. Also, vibration-induced metallic fatigue and thermal fatigue make them fragile. Moreover, close to the Ikata NPP runs the “median tectonic line,” one of Japan’s greatest active faults. Its Unit 1, almost 40 years at work, simply has to be decommissioned.

Yet there is a deeper issue. Shikoku Electric decided to decommission Ikata Unit 1 for business reasons—the extension cost exceeds the estimated profit from the extended operation. It was not a safety decision. The company plans to restart Ikata Unit 3, which has “met” the amended national standard, this July.

The Japanese author’s concerns and wish
The Ohtsu District Court, listening to the plaintiff residents, made a court decision to stop Units 3 and 4 of Kansai Electric’s Takahama NPP, which were only recently restarted. The court’s decision pointed out a crucial issue about the amended national standard, which provides the justification for a reactor restart: “Though the amendment was made in response to the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, we have yet to identify the very causes of the meltdown.” In a situation like this, restarting Ikata Unit 3 would be a downright folly. I sure hope Shikoku Electric will decommission all the units.