Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has finally announced that it will decommission its Fukushima No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant, more than seven years after the outbreak of the ongoing crisis at its tsunami-ravaged Fukushima No. 1 plant. If realized, all 10 nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture would be dismantled.
The presence of the No. 2 power station has offended Fukushima Prefecture residents, many of whom are still living as evacuees, and others who have suffered groundless rumors about radiation contamination. TEPCO needs to swiftly draw up a road map that will enable smooth decommissioning of the complex.
Like the No. 1 plant, the No. 2 complex was also hit by tsunami generated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. However, some of its external power sources remained intact, averting meltdowns at the plant.
The No. 2 plant remains offline, but a massive amount of nuclear fuel remains in the complex. Since prefectural residents have deeply rooted concerns about the plant's safety and its possible reactivation in the future, the prefectural government has urged TEPCO and the national government, which effectively has the largest stake in the utility, to decommission the plant at an early date.
Reactivation of a nuclear plant requires consent from the local municipalities hosting the complex. Therefore, the resumption of operations at the No. 2 power station has always been a politically unfeasible option.
Moreover, more than 30 years have passed since operation of its four reactors began.
To operate the reactors beyond the 40-year limit set under new rules introduced after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, it is necessary to invest a vast amount of money for additional safety measures. That means there were no merits to keeping the power station open in terms of the utility's finances.
Nevertheless, TEPCO had delayed the decision to decommission the complex.
Once a utility decides to decommission a nuclear reactor, the operator cannot regard the facility or the nuclear fuel inside it as part of the company's assets, weakening its financial base. It appears TEPCO may have waited to make the decision until the company had restored its financial strength.
However, even considering the financial strain that TEPCO experienced after the March 2011 disaster, it deserves criticism for its lack of sincerity, failing to provide a sufficient explanation to the public about its plans for the reactors.
TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa, who notified Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori of the decision, has admitted that the No. 2 plant "has hindered disaster recovery." If so, the utility should promptly begin preparations to decommission the complex.
The power company already faces the extremely difficult task of decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. In order to smoothly carry out the decommissioning of the No. 2 plant as well, the company must exercise wisdom in allocating its management resources, such as funds and personnel. We hope TEPCO will cooperate with the government in swiftly materializing its plan for decommissioning the No. 2 power station.
The decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 2 plant would leave the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture as TEPCO's sole atomic power station. This means that TEPCO may step up its efforts to persuade the local municipalities hosting that power plant to accept its reactivation. However, the company must keep in mind that the main priority is to ensure safety at the plant and to obtain the understanding and acceptance of local communities.