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Concerns raised after utility announces plan for nuclear reactor lifespan extension

Japan Atomic Power Co. President Mamoru Muramatsu, left, tells Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa about the company's plan to apply for the extension of its nuclear power operation at the Ibaraki Prefectural Government hall on Nov. 21, 2017. (Mainichi)

MITO -- The announcement by the Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC) that the embattled nuclear power operator will apply for a 20-year extension of the 40-year operational lifespan for a reactor at its Tokai No. 2 Power Station in Ibaraki Prefecture has raised concerns from local residents.

The Tokai No. 2 plant hosts a "boiling water reactor," the same type as those at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant that melted down in the wake of the 2011 disaster. While JAPC President Mamoru Muramatsu stresses that applying for the extension and reactivating the currently idled reactor at the power station are different issues, residents of the Ibaraki Prefecture village of Tokai, where the plant is located, are expressing concerns about the aging nuclear station.

In response to Muramatsu's briefing about the company's plan on Nov. 21, Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa and Tokai Mayor Osamu Yamada said they would decide whether to give the green light to restarting the reactor after studying the screening results by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

The JAPC's business is struggling as none of its nuclear plants are currently in operation. Its plan to restart the Tokai No. 2 station has also met with difficulties as the estimated costs to implement safety measures, such as anti-liquefaction work on coastal levees at the plant, have surged from the initial estimate of 78 billion yen to roughly 180 billion yen.

Former Tokai Mayor Tatsuya Murakami doubts the JAPC president's claim, pointing out that there is no way the utility will not restart the reactor while applying for the extension.

Furthermore, work to create evacuation plans, required for local governments located within 30 kilometers from a nuclear power plant, is facing serious challenges as some 1 million people live within a 30-kilometer range from the Tokai No. 2 station -- the largest population in the same area size from any nuclear plant in the country.

"To continue operating the nuclear plant in an abnormal location (with a population of 1 million within 30 kilometers) is disregarding residents. This is equivalent to being irresponsible," Murakami said.

Koshi Abe, a Tokai Village Assemblyman who is opposed to reactivating the Tokai nuclear plant, was wary of the utility's plan, saying that the restart will be carried out while local residents have no means of knowing what goes on behind closed doors.

Mika Tsubata, 46, another Tokai resident, expressed concerns, telling the Mainichi Shimbun, "I still remember the (2011) disaster. It's scary for the same type of nuclear reactor (as the ones at the Fukushima plant) to be put into operation while the cause (of the meltdown) has not been determined."

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