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Japan town mayor OKs restarting nuclear reactor over 40 years old

The No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Mihama Nuclear Power Station is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on Oct. 20, 2020. (Mainichi/Kenji Konoha)

TSURUGA, Fukui -- The mayor of a central Japan town hosting a nuclear power plant operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. informed the speaker of the municipal assembly on Feb. 15 that he would approve the restart of a reactor at the plant that is more than 40 years old.

    Mayor Hideki Toshima of the Fukui Prefecture town of Mihama told Mihama Municipal Assembly Speaker Yoshihiro Takenaka that he would approve the restart of the No. 3 reactor at Mihama Nuclear Power Station, which began operating in the 1970s. The assembly had already approved the reactivation of the aging reactor.

    Meanwhile, Mayor Yutaka Nose of the prefectural town of Takahama, home to Kansai Electric's Takahama Nuclear Power Station, whose No. 1 and 2 reactors are also over 40 years old, has given the green light for resuming the operations of the two rectors, while the Takahama Municipal Assembly has also approved of the move.

    Now that local consent has been secured, the focus has shifted to the decisions expected from Gov. Tatsuji Sugimoto and the prefectural assembly.

    The Mihama plant's No. 3 reactor went online in December 1976. In response to the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese government limited the operational life of nuclear reactors to "40 years in principle" in July 2013, while allowing a one-time extension of up to 20 years if the reactor fulfilled safety standards. The No. 3 reactor at the Mihama power station, along with the No. 1 and No. 2 rectors at the Takahama plant, have passed screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

    Mayor Toshima said on Feb. 15 that conditions to approve the restart "have all been met, including understanding from the townspeople and consent from the municipal assembly, as well as promising feedback over regional development by the central government and Kansai Electric." He added, "Both supporters and skeptics of the reactor restart are concerned about its safety. I will make sure to pay attention to the process."

    Toshima had spoken with Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama online three days prior. He had then expressed his intension to approve the reactivation, saying that the central government had given him positive responses about regional development and other measures he had requested.

    As a general rule, a nuclear power plant operator is expected to obtain consent for restarting a rector from the local governments around the plant as well as local assemblies. As a condition for approving the restart, the Fukui Prefectural Government said Kansai Electric would need to present candidate sites outside the prefecture for interim spent nuclear fuel storage facilities. The prefectural government maintained that until that condition was achieved, the parties were "not even at the starting line of discussion."

    However, after Kansai Electric proposed on Feb. 12 that it would finalize a planned site for the storage facilities by the end of 2023, the prefectural government demonstrated a positive attitude toward reactivation. Discussion on restarting the aging reactor may develop further at the prefectural assembly session convening on Feb. 16.

    (Japanese original by Hidetoshi Oshima, Tsuruga Resident Bureau)

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