Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
State of Nuclear Politics in Japan
For the first time, nine power companies, including TEPCO, conducted annual shareholders’ meetings on the same day, June 27. This year’s meetings were strongly attended in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and ongoing concerns about reactor safety nationwide, as many experts and public opinion continue to rise against nuclear power. At the meeting for Kansai Electric, Osaka City, which owns 9% of Kansai stock, proposed that the utility abandon nuclear energy, but the motion was voted down. The majority of power company shares are owned by banks and life insurers, who tend to vote alongside the utilities themselves. Because they have a financial stake in the companies, they often concentrate on profits rather than safety concerns.
One hundred and twenty residents from prefectures near Hokuriku Electric’s Shika nuclear power plant are petitioning to keep reactors there offline. The plaintiffs charge that active fault lines near and beneath the plant represent a larger than predicted risk for a major earthquake, and point out that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was considered safe by both its operator, TEPCO, as well as the central government before a triple meltdown occurred in March 2011.
The governor of Shizuoka Prefecture, Heita Kawakatsu, cited safety concerns this week when he said that Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka Plant will not be restarted in the near future. “I think that conditions that allow the Hamaoka plant to resume operations will not be met in the next several years,” he said, adding, “Even if we are told by the government that the plant is safe, there will be no restart unless a satisfactory explanation about why it is safe is given. Under the current circumstances, there is absolutely no possibility of the plant being reactivated.”
The Osaka City and Prefectural governments have produced an interim energy policy report recommending that Japan end all production of nuclear power by 2030, including operation of the Monju fast-breeder reactor.
In an effort to conserve power, Kyoto Prefectural government buildings will shut down on a rotating basis between July 23 and August 2. Officials say that power saving efforts will result in a 10% reduction in electricity usage.
At their annual meeting, over 4,000 TEPCO shareholders approved a motion to accept a one trillion yen ($12 billion) injection of government funds, effectively nationalizing the utility. In addition, they approved the appointment of Kazuhiko Shimokobe as Chairman (who replaces Tsunehisa Katsumata) and President Naomi Hirose` (who replaces Toshio Nishizawa.) However, many were highly critical of the way the utility has handled compensation claims since the disaster, as well as recent proposed rate hikes.
In the meantime, protesters gathered outside the meeting, demonstrating against TEPCO and nuclear energy. The use of Twitter and other social media sites has resulted in increasing attendance at ongoing demonstrations around the country as public opinion continues to turn against nuclear power.
Outgoing TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata insists that safety precautions at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, where workers continue to struggle with three crippled reactors and a spent fuel pool that experts call precarious, are “adequate.” In addition, he argues that TEPCO never planned to evacuate its entire staff in the days following the hydrogen explosions and nuclear meltdowns there. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other high-ranking government officials have flatly disputed his claims. Katsumata was speaking during an interview with The Daily Yomiuri newspaper.
TEPCO announced this week that workers, using endoscopes and radiation detection equipment, discovered the highest levels of radiation so far at the Fukushima Daiichi plant at reactor #1. Radiation measured 10,300 millisieverts per hour. At that rate, a person exposed for just six minutes would begin to vomit and experience other signs of radiation sickness; they would be dead within less than one hour. TEPCO believes that the meltdown at reactor #1 was more severe, resulting in higher radiation rates.
TEPCO has agreed to reimburse hotels in five prefectures for lost revenue due to cancelled bookings last March and April, following last year’s nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. (Source: NHK)
State of the Fukushima Daiichi Reactors
TEPCO is finally admitting that two outer walls of the building housing reactor #4 and its spent fuel pool, which holds 1,535 fuel rods, are bulging, and the building is tilting. The most extreme degree of tilt is 4.6 cm. The spent fuel rods are stored on an upper floor of the building; in case of an earthquake, if the building were to collapse or cooling functions lost, a major meltdown could occur that would require the evacuation of the Tokyo metropolitan area, home to 35 million people.
Restart of the Oi Reactors
Kansai Electric said that it plans to restart reactor #3 at its Oi power plant in Fukui Prefecture on Sunday night, with the reactor reaching full capacity on July 8. Reactor #4 will be restarted on July 17; officials expect it to reach full capacity by July 24. The decision to restart the reactors—the first in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year—has been highly controversial, sparking protests all over the country and raising grave concerns about the safety of residents living in the vicinity.
Two prominent seismic experts are criticizing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s decision to restart reactors #3 and #4 at Kansai Electric’s Oi Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture. Mitsuhisa Watanabe, of Tokyo University, and Katsuhiko Ishibashi, Professor Emeritus at Kobe University, used KEPCO’s own published seismic data to charge that the Oi reactors sit on faults that could produce much larger earthquakes than KEPCO has admitted. “The stress tests and new safety guidelines for restarting nuclear power plants allow for accidents…to occur. Instead of making standards stricter, they both represent a severe setback in safety standards,” Ishibashi warned. Watanabe added, “The expertise and neutrality of experts advising Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) are highly questionable.” In 2005, Ishibashi predicted that there would be an earthquake related nuclear accident in Japan. The Fukushima disaster happened just six years later.
Other Nuclear News
Results from an internal investigation conducted by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) show that outgoing Chairman Gregory Jackzo acted appropriately last year when he warned that the Fukushima nuclear disaster presented an emergency for the United States. Jackzo, whose management style has been controversial, is stepping down and will be replaced by Allison McFarlane, a professor of environmental science at George Mason University.